Bright Lights Film Journal

Women in Wonderland, Part 2 – Alice, or the Last Flight (Claude Chabrol 1977)

Alice (Sylvia Kristel) has an argument with her husband. She drives off into the pouring rain. There is an accident. When she wakes up, the sun is shining, but something is not quite right. She comes upon a stone wall that seems to have no beginning and no end. She meets various characters who are as odd and off-beat as the characters in Lewis Carroll. Anyone who has seen Carnival of Souls or “The Hitchhiker” episode of The Twilight Zone (with Inger Stevens) can guess how this turns out.

Alice ou la Dernière Fugue is one of writer-director Claude Chabrol’s most unusual films. While most of his work falls into the category of Hitchcockian suspense or film noir, Alice is his only feature-length excursion into pure metaphysical fantasy. Which is probably why it never got distributed in the United States (couldn’t be sold as a typical Chabrol), notwithstanding some full-frontal nudity from the beautiful and compliant Ms. Kristel, whom American audiences knew well as star of the soft-core Emmanuelle series.

I saw this fascinating film – twice – at the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FILMEX) in 1976. Chabrol himself was present to introduce the film. He said it was inspired by “Shakespeare and Phillip K. Dick.” Anyone watching it today might think of David Lynch. (Isn’t Inland Empire a Woman-in-Wonderland story?)

Note the use of natural countryside in the clip below, one of the film’s most memorable aspects, as well as the absence of dialogue. This is pure visual storytelling. Note also the use of mirrors and the chessboard pattern of the floor tiles, an obvious shout-out to Through the Looking Glass.

And don’t forget the upcoming Claude Chabrol Blog-a-Thon (June 21-30, 2009) hosted by Flickhead.