Redemption Films boards the TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS for their first in a series of Blu-ray releases of the films of Alain-Robbe Grillet
Film director Jean (director Alain Robbe-Grillet), his secretary Lucette (his wife Catherine Robbe-Grillet, author of the source novel for Radley Metzger's THE IMAGE), and producer Marc (Paul Louyet) board the Trans-Europ-Express bound for Antwerp to seek funding for a production. They cite a suspiciously behaving man who may or may not be actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, but Jean decides to turn him into Elias, the novice drug smuggler in a scenario set in Antwerp – better known for its diamonds than cocaine – and laced with intrigue, paranoia, prostitution, bondage, and sadomasochism. As the three filmmakers on the train puzzle out the scenario, motives and actions are changed, dropped, or modified as Elias is given fragmentary clues to the time and place of his exchange in a drawn-out test that puts him in the company of Eva (Marie-France Pisier, CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING), a prostitute who might be an informant, a cop, or a rival gang member, possibly corrupt cop Lorentz (Christian Barbier, WEEKEND AT DUNKIRK), definitely corrupt customs officials (including THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE's Daniel Emilfork and OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES' Henri Lambert), mastermind Franck (Charles Millot, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING) and a few shifty locals.
"Erotic? Serious? Funny? Tragic? A Mystery? A Game? A Paradox? Neo-Sadism? A Detective Story?" says the American poster tagline. TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS was one of the handful of Robbe-Grillet films that got an English-subtitled release stateside courtesy. While Grove Press – the publisher of Robbe-Grillet's novels in English (as well as other controversy-courting works by Sade, Henry Miller, and Jean Genet) – offshoot Evergreen Films handled THE MAN WHO LIES and L'IMMORTELLE, TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS was released by Trans American Films (distributor of Jess Franco's SUCCUBUS and other provocative imports like THE FEMALE RESPONSE, DAGMAR'S HOT PANTS, and SALON KITTY). The plot is conventional but the narrative frustrated or obfuscated by the filmmakers attempts to make the characters' actions coherent. Removed of this framework, the remainder would probably make a passable thriller on the strength of the performers and scenery with the nudity and sadomasochism as its commercial hook (as it would be anyway for much of the film's international advertising).
A subtitled bootleg made the rounds for a couple of years before Ripley's Home Video in Italy released an HD-mastered DVD (not English friendly, but it soon became the source of a new subtitled grey market edition).Redemption's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen transfer uses a new HD master (also produced in Italy) that is also the source for the film on Carlotta's nine disc DVD-only boxed set (and individual editions) in France. The grain pattern is quite pronounced throughout this transfer as it was on the Italian disc (although seemingly less noisy overall) suggesting that this is how it is meant to look, elegant yet slightly rough in the style of cinematographer Willy Kurant's photography of Jean-Luc Godard's MASCULINE/FEMININE with the train interiors looking appropriately "glassy", the day exteriors spotless, while some of the interiors – particularly Trintignant's and France-Pisier's bondage episodes – have a deliberately hazier look partially due to the use of natural light. The final shot has rather harsh contrast but that may be because it appears under the "fin" title optical or because it was grabbed on-the-fly unlike other scenes shot in the station. The LPCM 2.0 French mono track is clean and highlights the music – extracts from Verdi's "La Traviata" sung by Clo Vanesco (ANGELIQUE) who also appears onscreen as a cabaret singer during the climax – over Michel Fano's sound design (less adventurous here than in his other Robbe-Grillet films).
As with Redemption's SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE, the only substantive extra is an interview with the late director (32:44) conducted by "Ce Soir" host Frédéric Taddeï. Robbe-Grillet explains that the inspirations for the film were the then-new Trans-Europ-Express (with its fishbowl-like train compartments) and the Antwerp railway station (although the Trans-Europ-Express didn't actually arrive at that station). L'IMMORTELLE producer Samy Halfon not only received Belgian backing but also the free use of the Trans-Europ-Express in exchange for the publicity the film would bring. Unlike L'IMMORTELLE, Robbe-Grillet did not want to use non-actors robotically responding to his direction, but he did want actors to perform the scenario with detachment and again here speaks highly of Trintignant's abilities as an actor performing a character rather than playing the role (he also explains that Trintignant was not as well known at this time and the producers initially wanted Maurice Ronet (PURPLE NOON). The disc also includes a trailer for the film (3:22) as well as trailers for THE MAN WHO LIES and EDEN AND AFTER (as well as Redemption's "The Cinema of Alain Robbe-Grillet" promo). (Eric Cotenas)
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