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By Culturekiosque Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, 4 DECEMBER 2008 - Both famous and obscure, Alain Robbe-Grillet was a profoundly unique French filmmaker and postmodern novelist. Though best known for his screenplay for Last Year at Marienbad, he was also a director. Much of his work deals with memory, eroticism, fantasy and dreams. Beginning this evening the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts presents four of his directorial efforts (plus Marienbad), all of them rarely seen in the U.S.

In Robbe-Grillet's enigmatic first film L'Imortelle (The Immortal Woman, 1963), considered by many to be his best), a melancholy professor meets a beautiful and mysterious woman who may or may not be involved in a white slavery ring. After a passionate but brief encounter, she disappears. His subsequent search for her through the streets of Istanbul is a maddening endeavor, as the locals inexplicably deny ever having seen her

The Immortal Woman, 1963
Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Cinematographer: Maurice Barry
Cast: Françoise Brion, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Guido Celano

Trans-Europ Express, Robbe-Grillet's most accessible film, combines realism and fantasy with uncharacteristic humor. An author (played by Grillet himself), considering ideas for a film while riding the Trans-Europ Express, dreams up a sordid melodrama of gangsters, drugs, and bondage. When a gangster (Jean-Louis Trintignant) shows up aboard the same train, the author's fantasies come to life. Full of mirror images, distortions of reality, duplications and titillating scenes featuring nude women in chains, the film makes no pretense of having a conventional narrative.

Trans-Europ Express, 1968
Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Cinematographer: Willy Kurant
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Marie France Pisier, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nadine Verdier

Eden and After, 1970 is an erotic and labyrinthine tale of murder and vampirism, this film is set somewhere between the fictitious landscapes of the Marquis de Sade and Lewis Carroll. In Café Eden, a group of bored students engaged in a series of baroque parlor games is visited by a mysterious stranger whose presence evokes new menacing fantasies.

Eden and After, 1970
Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Cinematographer: Igor Luther.
Cast: Catherine Jourdan, Pierre Zimmer, Richard Leduc, Lorraine Rainer

Though ostensibly both a mystery and a love triangle, Alain Renais' 1961 realization of Robbe-Grillet's scriptL'Année Dernière à Marienbad rejects Hollywood's vocabulary in its investigation of memory and perception within a palatial hotel in Marienbad. Often freezing the characters in tableau-like positions, Sacha Vierny's fluid camera defines three-dimensional space by gliding around the characters and through the rooms of the hotel, focusing as much on the ornate architectural details as the characters themselves. Like a Cubist painting, no one point of view can be determined, no linear narrative determined, creating a sense that all events are taking place in shared memory

Last Year at Marienbad, 1961
Directed by Alain Resnais
Screenplay: Alain Robbe-Grillet
Cinematographer: Sacha Vierny
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitöeff, Françoise Bertin

Shot on location in Czechoslovakia, L'Homme qui ment (The Man Who Lies, 1968) is the Kafkaesque story of a soldier, who after supposedly being shot down by the Germans, recounts his story as a French Resistance fighter, though he may actually be a traitor. Exploiting the sympathies of the townspeople (and the local women) the protagonist invents his own character and past as he goes along. Featuring no shortage of erotic scenes, including a voyeuristic depiction of a lesbian affair between a maid and her sister, and a typically obscured narrative, the film garnered Robbe-Grillet an award for Best Screenplay at the Berlin Film Festival.

The Man Who Lies, 1968
Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Screenplay: Alain Robbe-Grillet
Cinematographer: Igor Luther.
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Dominique Prado, Sylvie Bréal

Born in Brest in 1922, Alain Robbe-Grillet studied mathematics and biology before turning to literature at the age of 30. His novels gained worldwide recognition for the French literary movement known as "Le Nouveau Roman" or "The New Novel." At 40, he carried his exploration of unorthodox narrative structures into a parallel career as a screenwriter and director. Winner, with Alain Resnais, of the Golden Lion in Venice in 1961 for L'année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad), he subsequently directed eight features. Robbe-Grillet lived in seclusion in Normandy until his death in February of this year at the age of 85.

Enigmas and Eternity: The Films of Alain Robbe-Grillet
4, 7, 11, 14 & 18 December

YBCA Screening Room
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission St. at Third
San Francisco, CA
Tel: (1) 415 978 27 87

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Days of Glory: Valor, Racism and the Ingratitude of the French Republic

Book Review: The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (Knopf)

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