Boy meets girl. Boy takes girl to graveyard. Boy regrets decision.
Based on a poem by Tristan Corbière, and written and directed by the master of mood Jean Rollin, The Iron Rose is a sexy, surreal, slow-rolling wave of splendor, atmosphere and chill. There's little dialogue and even less plot in this cemetery-set suspenser, but it's compelling nonetheless.
Brunet beauty — a departure from the Rollin blonde — Françoise Pascal and off-kilter lady-killer Hugues Quester play the couple upon whom the story is centered (there are only are few others in the cast, none of whom have consequential roles). The dynamic is dependent upon their chemistry, and it works splendidly, whether the two are making sweet love in a tomb, tussling topside, or narrowly escaping the notice of a creepy clown and a classic Count Dracula. It's all fun and games at first but before long, the bloom is off and the couple decide to leave… only to find there is no way out. As their dynamic swaps — she was afraid at first, then it's he who hesitates — we see it's all meant to be and that one must be sacrificed in order for the other to live.
The Iron Rose is a melodic and morbid mood piece, through and through: sequences set on the seaside and in an abandoned trainyard are plunked in from nowhere, but they are so persistently pretty they manage to fit in just fine. Dreamy cinematography from Rollin regular Jean-Jacques Renon is flawless (and highly praised by Pascal in her interview portion of the DVD). A slinky score by Pierre Raph adds silken texture to the hard-edged, iron-inspired visuals in the locations (craggy rocks on the beach, jutting tombstones in the cemetery, and rough-hewn railroad tracks scarring barren countryside).
This is one of Rollin's more sincere, straight-ahead forays, without a whit of his trademark vampire girl-on-girl action and no camp or blood. It's a hypnotic, psychological slow-burn, about a spiral into insanity and the mutual, final, embrace of Acolyte and Evil. While The Iron Rose is not quite as beautiful or romantic as Lips of Blood, of the recent round of Kino-Lorber Redemption releases, it's among my favorites.
As in the other updated re-releases, extras feature a bizarre, short interview with Rollin, half-seated, half-slumping on a sofa and seated beside a mute, masked man. The auteur says a few words about what this film means to him, then we move onto interviews with other key players. In this case, it's his longtime collaborator Natalie Perry and lead actress Pascal. Pascal remembers that Rollin didn't want her in the role, that she was producer's choice, a brick-house brunet foisted upon the willowy blonde-partial director. She set out, hard, to change his mind, and she did. Pascal also talks about how her no-nudity clause was turned upside and torn to bits, as well as what it was like to shoot in less-than cozy elements.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson