One of the main roles, or the main role, of avant-garde movement is not only to find out new ways of expression, discovering, revealing and pioneering new forms, whether in theatre, film, literature, but also to supply a new stock of ideas for mainstream. Nowadays, viewers frequently forget that there was something bigger, newer and more shocking before they have seen it in their theatre. One example for all: if something even slightly reminds viewers of surrealism or if there is only a tiny indication of narrative structure outside the common logical flow of causality, they are straight away labelling it ,,lynchian.“ That´s nice and it is certainly a significant recognition for Mr.Lynch, who along with Mr.Frost has changed the history of television and aesthetics of TV series with their ground-breaking Twin Peaks. Although, let´s not forget that there was a bunch of great films ignoring a standard narrative storyline before Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive.
A bulk of new ideas was pioneered by French poets, writers, philosophers and least but not last, filmmakers. One great gentleman gave the world, what we call now, aesthetics of ugliness. However, also successors of Mr.de Sade made a humungous contribution. Comte de Lautrémont, Charles Baudelaire, André Breton. René Magritte did, as well as Dalí and Ernst, deconstructed reality on plethora fragments of illusions in his minimalist, albeit enigmatic canvases partly inspired by the oracular Pittura Metafisica movement. Tableaux so powerful and mind-opening that they have led one man to make a film based on several of them. Art is indeed inspirational. Moreover, it is generating another art. Series of paintings titled La Belle Captive shares the same name as the film directed and written by the pope of Nouveau Roman, Alain Robbe-Grillet. The reign of the plot over fabula cannot be overlooked in the works of Robbe-Grillet. The same applies for his cinematic excesses. The French experimental writer was possessed by bending storylines against narrative conventions. Being obsessed with the structure of a text, he has built a weird Babylon of text, a mirror maze of words with tons of possibilities. One thing is certain about his texts and films: nothing is certain. Emulating ephemeral and highly unstable psychical states, we have found ourselves in the skin of neurotic and confused characters. The negation of objective reality via individual subjectivity came in handy recalling the Kantian phenomenology that we simply cannot understand things as they are in themselves. So did Magritte. The beauty of indefinitude which makes a man shiver and gives him brain wrecking nightmares, is the glorious axe around which their stories are built.
La Belle Captive is not an exception. A man around thirties, apparently working for some shadow entity resembling police, meets a little drunk girl who he considers a goddess on a local disco. Later that night, during taking care of so-called business matters, he stumbles at this hard to ignore lady in a rather unflattering state. She is lying on the centre of the road, in the middle of the night, likely with concussion and a tiny stream of blood over her pale long leg. After this odd encounter and pursuit to apparently save her life, the protagonist experiences a series of events overruling the linear perception of the known reality. Bad headaches and hallucinatory state predict a problem between mind and body, a gap between objective and subjective reality. An incoherent mixture of real and irreal occurrences, recurring places, items and persons, even the dead, symbolize ostracization from the outer reality. The (anti)hero has fallen a victim to a chain of bizarre events whereas his memory has locked him inside a somewhat virtual reality. To dub La Belle Captive as a silly adventure of a madman would be dishonourable in the wake of Robbe-Grillet´s oeuvre. The linear narrative axe has been raised into vertical position. We are no longer perceiving events logically according to order of things based on cause and effect. Indeed, we are prisoners of protagonist’s conscience, mind and memory along with him, riding in his private inner world on a surreal elevator against the time, space and laws of causality. The collapse of parallel worlds into one creates a conundrum which viewers are invited to solve or to be devoured by it. Naturally, all this happens with constant references to eccentric paintings of Magritte. Robbe-Grillet´s cinematic career is mostly known thanks to writing credit for the film Last Year in Marienbad, directed by legendary Alain Resnais. However, he established his career on idiosyncratic, provoking, dazzling and erotic works of his own similarly to Walerian Borowczyk. The transition of the signature style from paper onto celluloid happened quite naturally. Despite the melting of the main narrative into one storyline echoing the past and future at the same time, La Belle Captive prevails by the aforementioned incertitude thus underlining the expansion of the dubiousness. The pulp like beginning introducing femme fatale soon turns into a detective story. Odd investigation leads into asylum where the story slides imminently close to a ghost story genre. The kaleidoscope of constant variations along with the recurring motifs forms an antagonistic logic-defying structure.
One of the fundaments of Robbe-Grillet´s writings is also the repression. He has indeed confessed that he is unable to suppress it therefore the ever-present sado-erotic symbols (most popular are glass shards). The violation of the protagonist’s object of desire does not only suggest a misogynistic act of terror, but in the same time serves as an allegory to the violation of reality. The signature style of French writer-filmmaker is notorious thanks to this ambiguity, which overlaps his whole oeuvre. Infinite reflection of anything, one thing echoes another one, strings of repetitive loops. This is the right formula for dissection of the reality. The reality decays into uncountable pieces or to preserve Robbe-Grillet´s poetics, shards, of the one highly unstable and subjective perspective. The most iconic figure by Belgian surrealist is a man in the bowler hat, enigmatic character travelling throughout eerie backgrounds and not affected by the time or space. A complete negation of the protagonist of La Belle Captive whose sins of the past have stigmatized his life and sealed his fate. The director´s obsessions are balanced with those of Magritte. We are not invaders only in the mind of French novelist, but Belgian painter as well. The both minds share several mutual interests. The aforementioned woman body was literally dissected into pieces by Magritte thus conceiving his famous painting, The Birth of the Idol. Nietzsche advocated the twilight of idols; Magritte is celebrating its birth. Indeed, the idol is represented, pars pro toto, by a wooden female arm dominating over a male like a silhouette. With evident erotic connotations generated by this provocative composition emphasizing radiant gynocracy that is certainly something in what Robbe-Grillet´s was interested. Although, he tried so hard to strip down female dominance, even with a bizarre penetration-like accident featuring harpoon, as one of the memorable scenes from La Belle Captive. Another mutual almost pathological interest both gentlemen were absorbed by the fetish of a feminine body. On the one hand, Magritte is decomposing it into several pieces only to be used as a variety of symbols (it comes to mind a conceptual joke by Courbet, The Origin of the World), on the other one, Robbe-Grillet is performing a series of decomposition, albeit literally ones with his sado-erotic deviations. However, both gentlemen use different instruments, the Belgian painter being confined into a metaphysical universe, the French novelist a visceral one. The unprecedented parallels lead to the one central theme.
La Belle Captive is a not only engaging and mind-twisting murder mystery-cum-ghost story-cum-hallucinatory trip. It is a metaphor on humankind hereditary illness and an absolute allegory of life, of that untamable leviathan, a giant hieroglyph above over heads, where in the sea of uneasiness nothing is clear but the sweet scent of death.