La Belle Captive (1983) is an erotic noir mystery by Alain Robbe-Grillet, the screenwriter of Last Year at Marienbad. It is also quite tongue-in-cheek. The following three images which appear in succession in the film capture something of the movie’s fetishistic flavor.
If the last shot reminds you of the orgy sequence in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, that’s appropriate because, like Eyes Wide Shut, Marienbad, and several of the films of David Lynch (Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire), La Belle Captive is a dream film. Don’t look too hard for significance. As in the best dream films, the story and images seem to flow directly and unmediated from the filmmaker’s subconscious to you.
The film was photographed by Henri Alekan, a master of dream cinema, who also shot Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, and who would later shoot Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. The film’s soundtrack alternates Wagner with accordion tangos – just like BuÃ±uel and DalÃ’s Un Chien Andalou.
THE STORY – Walter (Daniel Mesguich) is a secret agent of some kind who takes his orders from a black-leather-clad brunette who rides through the film on a motorcycle like the Princess of Death in Cocteau’s Orpheus. One night in a disco, Walter meets a beautiful long-legged blonde (Philadelphia-born Gabrielle Lazure, above) who refuses to give him her name or telephone number. Driving home from the disco, he encounters the same blonde, lying bloodied and handcuffed in the middle of a country road, apparently the victim of an accident. He takes her to the nearest house, a mansion of course, where the Eyes Wide Shut-type guests appear to be expecting her. After a wild night of surreal, quasi-vampiric love-making, Walter wakes up alone in a ruin. Was the girl a ghost or some other type of supernatural anima? As in Vertigo, Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide, Jess Franco’s Venus in Furs, Roger Corman’s The Terror, and so many other films of this kind, the protagonist spends the rest of the film searching for her. Meanwhile, the police suspect him of murder.
STRUCTURE – At one point, the film cuts to a shot of Walter unconscious in a laboratory, hooked up to various recording devices while observed by two “scientists” who had previously appeared in the film in other roles. “Aha,” we say, “this confirms everything we have seen up to now as the protagonist’s dream.” And then he wakes up in another location, and we realize the shot of the scientists was a dream-within-the-dream.
THE QUOTATION – Walter visits an expert on the supernatural. He asks the expert if it was possible the girl he met might have been – you know – dead? “Oh certainly,” says the expert – who also happens to be the girl’s father, “Most of the people you see in the street are dead. That’s why it’s so crowded everywhere.”