After the life-changing and unforgettable Let Me Die a Woman, David Flint of the Strange Things Are Happening website chose a far more haunting and less borderline-offensive feature for his next screening as part of the Scalarama festival. Jean Rollin’s La rose de fer (The Iron Rose) from 1973 is a slight tale, but its simplistic story and sometimes obtuse manner only add to its mystic as an oft-forgotten landmark of vintage European arthouse horror.
Ostensibly a two-hander, The Iron Rose concerns the meeting of a young man (Hugues Quester) and woman (Françoise Pascal) who almost immediately start a relationship in that most romantic of places – a railway yard. Choosing to go to a inner-city yet expansive cemetery for a picnic, the unnamed couple end up getting carnal in a crypt and emerging hours later in the dark, finding they are now lost in the unending headstones, overgrown fauna and miles of rusting fences.
The pace is at times almost painfully slow, yet its steady repetitious – the endless cemetery, the bickering between the leads – and elliptical – return trips to that same initial crypt of love – structure reinforce a hypnotic quality which is mirrored when the woman seems to become possessed by the cemetery and wishes to stay. Further making it difficult to relate to proceedings on any emotional level is the interactions between the two. Their dialogue is almost entirely composed of non-sequitur declarations, divorced from what was uttered before or what succeeds it.
But that is arguably the point of this faintly surreal and very much dream-logic film. It’s not supposed to engage emotionally, it’s not supposed to come across as realism-routed horror. Everything which happens in the film feels like the result of a grand plan; it’s preordained, and the hypnotic poetry of The Iron Rose‘s nature reinforces the inevitability of the characters actions. Sex and Death, inherently connected and interrelated, are the most common themes in any art form or media, all the way back to before the story of Genesis.
The Genesis story, more specifically the tale of Adam and Eve, I believe is very much the basis for The Iron Rose. Man, woman, nature, nothing more. The woman inciting the downfall of (a) man as a consequence of this new world’s effects on her is the natural progression of this perverted version of the biblical tale, and the classic literary and mythical ties between women and nature are well used here. She is smitten and bewitched by the fecund surroundings, and thus it is inevitable that she will give herself up to it.
Ultimately The Iron Rose is a film which one will probably return to the memory and mind’s eye often after the fact, but is potentially difficult to enjoy in the watching. Fortunately, there is more than enough meaning to be eked out of the elliptical narrative (I’ve not even touched on the issues of potential blasphemy and the use of sex and sexual politics) to make Rollin’s favourite of his own films a worthwhile and intriguing watch.