L’IMMORTELLE (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1963)

In Istanbul, N is sexually involved with L, who disappears, for whom he searches, who reappears and is killed in an automobile accident in which he, her passenger, grabbed the wheel, consigning him to become—or continue to be—the prisoner of his labyrinthine mind, which the streets of Istanbul project.
     Robbe-Grillet’s L’immortelle explores the relationship between interior and exterior, thought and experience, mind and matter. It has a reputation for being esoteric, even pretentious, but in reality (hm) it is burrowing, clear as clean mirror, and intriguingly and appropriately, not irritatingly, elusive. Misogynistic, as some claim? No; rather, it explores the extent to which the objectifying male mind makes over a woman’s reality into its own projections, with all the attendant neediness and ego. (The film is about what inattentive viewers mistake it for being.) Shot on location, author Robbe-Grillet’s stunning filmmaking debut is from Turkey, Italy and France.
     Robbe-Grillet establishes the parameters of both the film’s method and concerns at the get-go. A roadway travelogue tracking shot, accompanied by a woman’s voice in foreign song (I immediately thought of Wordsworth’s poem “The Solitary Reaper”), yields to the sound of a crash—the automobile accident. A photograph of L, an exotic beauty, freezes life into death. N looks out a hotel window. The blinds open, revealing the photograph right outside behind them. This yields to dreamy shots of L alive but silently posing: on the beach, looking at the sea; inside N’s room, slowly turning to face him. Following the repeated shot of N at the window, the blinds close on L’s photograph. We are glimpsing, Robbe-Grillet’s train of images reveals, N’s haunted and tormented mind.
     Fragmented time forms a mosaic—even a kaleidoscope—of the present that N’s mind contains.
     Prix Louis Delluc.

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