The collapse of the hopes of May 1968, especially among idealistic students, in France: the title of L’éden et après, writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first film in color, refers to this, and, if one takes this as a starting-point, all the blather about how impenetrable this film is becomes preposterous. Robbe-Grillet’s film, from France and Czechoslovakia, is a vivid although adventurously mysterious political post-mortem.
Literally, Eden is the Eden Café, the maze-like glass-mirror-and-steel university student hideout—a transmutation of the dream-like fun house entrapment-room of seemingly infinite mirrors in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947). (There are also suggestions of the Bauhaus-inspired mansion in Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat, 1934, and the hotel in Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad, 1961, whose screenplay Robbe-Grillet wrote.) The students who haunt the café, having withdrawn from the world of political engagement, play out their drugged apathy in performance-“games” of risk, ritual and power, for instance, games of rape and faux-Russian roulette.
Into Eden comes a stranger, “the Dutchman”—a ghostlike magician. He affects all the patrons, but especially Violette, whose vivid name balances the faint hue of the Dutchman’s blue eyes. The Dutchman helps transport Violette to a montage of terrifying visions, for example, a scorpion twirling on a suspended string like an acrobat—a vision (like others) that later becomes part of Violette’s seeming waking reality. But who can say? Under the Dutchman’s spell and possible hallucinatory drug, Violette bounds back and forth between Eden and a dockside factory, outside of which she finds the Dutchman dead, presumably murdered, and the desert in North Africa, where the Dutchman, apparently alive, becomes her lover—until she rediscovers his corpse, in the same position as earlier near the factory. Violette keeps looking for things: a key; a book; a house in Tunisia pictured on a postcard. In sum, Violette is “lost” in reference to time, place, hallucination versus reality: an apt projection of how idealistic French students felt at the time this film was made. Her Alice-adventures, accompanied by sadomasochistic images involving herself and other patrons from Eden, mock the hope for the future that recently abandoned her and her generation.
Much Godardianism assists our navigation of this stunning film.
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