A director of prolific quantity rather consistent quality, the career of Jean Rollin continues to be revisited by Arrow with their third volume of selections from his back catalogue with five films from between 1975 to 1981 led by the dreamlike vampire fantasy Lips of Blood (Lèvres de Sang), also distributed in an “alternative” version featuring more explicit footage under the name Suck Me, Vampire (Suce Moi Vampire).
Opening with an unexplained prelude of shrouded bodies being carried through a darkened graveyard to a mausoleum conducted in appropriately sombre silence, the event is contrasted with a party held by “the Parisian in-crowd” at which Frédéric’s childhood memories of a nocturnal encounter with a mysterious woman dressed in white are stirred by an advert for a new brand of perfume.
His mother dismissing the memory as nonsense, saying it never occurred, Frédéric attempts to determine the location of the ruins in the background of the poster but the photographer refuses to divulge the details, but seeing the image of the woman everywhere he becomes more convinced that she is real even as others attempt to prevent him from finding her with increasing determination.
Co-written by Jean-Loup Philippe who plays Frédéric and Rollin himself, Nathalie Perrey is Frédéric’s needy mother, unable to fix a drink for herself when her son is there to do it for her, and Annie Brilland is the mysterious Jennifer, unchanged in the twenty years since their first meeting, while the younger version of Frédéric is played by the director’s son Serge Rollin.
The epitome of French cinema of the fantastic, the nudity in Lips of Blood is frequent and utterly casual, the quartet of vampiric women who serve Jennifer when they deign to dress donning little more than diaphanous veils which waft in the wind as they are chased around the battlements, and throughout the behaviour of the characters is inexplicable and the scant dialogue makes little sense, floating without context or depth.
Frédéric a protagonist with no agency, caught between the mirage of Jennifer and the manipulation of his mother who apparently prefers to see her son committed to an asylum than admit her (ir)responsibility, he wanders in and out of narrative cul-de-sacs, the location of the Château de Sauveterre ascertained from a postcard randomly purchased from a blind street vendor, the haphazard logic creeping like a dream to a reunion which floats on a romantic sea of unproven hopes belied by the cold waves which sweep the lovers away.
Lips of Blood is streaming on Arrow now