Tastefully erotic and mystical in tone, The Iron Rose shines a light on youthful arrogance that often blinds us from darker realities. As my first introduction to Jean Rollin (courtesy of MUBI USA), the cemetery-based film conjured up memories of my first brush with Alain-Robbe Grillet and his 1970 film Eden and After (also courtesy of MUBI USA). Both films highlight striking lead actresses guided by a dark undercurrent of fear and desire.
In Eden and After, Violette (Catherine Jourdan) falls victim to a “fear powder,” while The Girl (Françoise Pascal) of The Iron Rose thrives off the fear of her new lover (Hugues Quester as The Boy). In the film’s opening act, Rollin highlights the perceived masculinity of The Boy, as he awaits his braless, well-endowed date from atop a train. To further solidify his alpha male status, he takes The Girl on a nighttime walk through a cemetery and compares it to the countryside. Despite a solid understanding of how to impress, The Boy pays little attention to his companion’s thoughts, especially when she notes how the stars are conveying a message. Without taking a moment to reflect, the anxious fellow worries about his bike lights and insists on leaving. After all, The Boy has already crossed off “sex in underground crypt” from his bucket list.
The lovers become lost in the darkness, and that’s when the roles are reversed. The Girl, dressed in yellow, continues to gaze at the stars, and The Boy, dressed in red, becomes agitated with his date’s poetic musings. Lost in themselves, the couple slowly drifts apart, but a rather disturbing argument brings them back together, literally speaking. After an odd chase sequence and shocking slap, the couple reunites, but only one of them has further plans for a shared journey through the darkness. The Boy stumbles around, The Girl speaks of time. She’s the poet — not him — and Rollin frames his female subject under the cover of darkness and shining stars, thus contrasting The Boy’s view from a pit of bones. He’s a mortal and she’s in another world — or at least well on her way.
The vampire films of Jean Rollin have eluded me over the years, but I was impressed by the restraint and pacing of The Iron Rose. By trapping the viewer and leads inside the cemetery without any additional scare tactics, Rollin allows the natural drama to play out with a touch of poetic dialogue. The Boy perceives “the countryside” as a means to an end — it’s a small act in his play — but The Girl acknowledges the essence of the land and dances throughout her playground.
Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and founder of Vague Visages. He lived in Hollywood, California from 2006 to 2012 and has bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History. He now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.