Friday, 26 October 2012

Sylvia Kristel from Chabrol's underrated "Alice" [1977 France]

I would have liked this post to have been an elaborate tribute to one of the most remarkable personalities in European cinema, but will have to settle for paying my respects through an underrated gem from Claude Chabrol, "Alice ou la dernière fugue" [Eng. Title: Alice or the Last Escapade]. I hesitate to address Sylvia Kristel merely as a Dutch actress - she was a phenomenon, only comparable, perhaps, to someone like Marilyn Monroe in terms of being the object of near universal adulation and infatuation of her era. She was also influential in spawning a whole 'industry' on the back of her success - every "Emmanuelle" has strived to recreate the elegance and mystery of the character created by Sylvia Kristel. Emmanuelle was Ms. Kristel's gift to male youth of the 70's, one for which they would forever be grateful. Her recent passing may have been quite untimely, but she can rest assured of the indelible legacy she had left behind - changing men's perception of female sensuality, and furthering feminist goals. Dear Emmanuelle - may you rest in peace..!

Form is temporary, but class is permanent - I think it was a sports writer who said that. But I think it holds true to creative endeavours as well. Claude Chabrol was going through a bit of a crisis during the seventies - he was working on different genres but not exactly going places. Because people wanted him to do films he'd hitherto been famous for - murder mysteries. Several elegant pieces made during the period weren't well received, and "Alice" was one among them. While the film may not be his masterpiece, this modern adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is nevertheless a well conceived gem that oozes class. Sylvia Kristel also may not have been the most gifted of actresses, but as the eponymous Alice, she gives her character an air of mystery and a determination that makes this film tick. Alice here is no longer the innocent and curious type, but a worldly-wise modern woman wanting to make a fresh start after a failed marriage.

The story starts with Alice breaking-up with her husband one night and setting off in pouring rain. A shattered windscreen forces her to seek shelter at a nearby manor, where she's invited to stay for the night by its owner Henri and his butler. The following morning, she wakes up to find no one at the house, but her car has been fixed and breakfast laid at the table. But when she tries to leave, she couldn't find the gates through which she entered last night, and since then every attempt at leaving would bring her back to the same manor, making her realise that she's an unwilling participant in someone's wicked game.

Chabrol recreates an atmosphere of unease and impending fate surprisingly through light images and stunning colour - the stills will bely the horror fantasy that it is, yet every scene will be tinged with anguish. There's an enormous amount of meaningful detail in the imagery if you're willing to indulge yourself. Right from the snail on the windshield, to the reading room, and Alice's red dress (what an elegant dress by the way!), it is a feast for the eyes. The music and cinematography ably assist the tone of the film, and despite the fact that this is one of Chabrol's more unusual works, he has once again showcased his sheer mastery of cinema as a medium. Fittingly he had dedicated this film in memory of Fritz Lang. "Alice" is definitely a Chabrol classic, desperately in need of rediscovery, and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link


The Nudity: Sylvia Kristel
There is a scene in the film when Alice first notices that she is being watched, when she is about to get into the bath. Sylvia Kristel briefly displays her physical charms in all its stunning glory in this scene. She hears a voice when she's about to get into the bath, realising for the first time that she is being watched. My DVD is letterboxed and I don't think it has ever been mastered in true anamorphic widescreen. So I took the liberty of enhancing this special scene to 720p.

Sylvia Kristel in Alice ou la dernière fugue


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