Orchestrator Of Storms

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Orchestrator Of Storms
"Though there is a melancholy aspect to it, Orchestrator Of Storms explores who Rollin was as a person with warmth and wit, and shares his enthusiasm for, as it is phrased here, ‘beauty in the grotesque and the morose and the opulent.’" | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Jean Michel Rollin Roth Le Gentil – better known simply as Jean Rollin – was a filmmaker whose works never enjoyed much mainstream success, but whose influence was considerable. Active from 1968 to 2009, he worked predominantly in the horror genre, always a good way to find oneself sidelined by critics, and became still more of an outcast when he resorted to directing pornography in order to make a living. This documentary by Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger, screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival where Rollin won a Lifetime Achievement Award back in 2007, sets out to reappraise his work and tell his story.

Born in the small French town of Neuilly-sur-Seine (since renamed Hauts-de-Seine), Rollin might have been perfectly placed to ride the country’s New Wave were it not for his outsider interests. (He would enjoy considerably more success in Quebec, where Fantasia is based.) Orchestrator details how he grew up with a single mother, Denise Rollin, whom he adored, and how some of his interests were first inspired by a boyfriend she had when he was a toddler, one Georges Bataille. Herself an influential figure in the intellectual art scene of the period, she also socialised with Jean Cocteau, Maurice Blanchot and various of the Left Bank surrealists, giving her creatively inclined son a rich an eclectic set of ideas on which to draw. Though the film doesn’t stress it, this may also have left him poorly prepared for the cruelty and stupidity he would go on to encounter in the wider world, where his sensitivity made him vulnerable.

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That vulnerability was not just emotional. The documentary goes on to look at the violent response to the première of his first film, Le Viol Du Vampir, in Cannes, at which audience members literally ripped up seats and threw them at the screen, with Rollin having to flee for his own safety. This is placed in the context of the waves of unrest rippling through French society at the time, but nonetheless, it’s fair to say that the film touched a nerve, and though these would be the most dramatic of Rollin’s troubles in connecting with the public, they would not be the last.

Benefiting considerably from its studious approach to contextualisation (especially important for non-French audiences), the documentary proceeds to carry us, in linear fashion, through the ups and downs of Rollin’s career. Scant attention is paid to the pornography, as it is more his vision than his technique that Ballin and Ellinger are interested in. There is a lot of focus on funding and production issues which positions him clearly as an outsider who struggled to fully articulate his vision, and whilst his achievements are celebrated, a question mark remains as to whether or not they ever really spoke to the sum of his talents.

In light of the film’s intellectual approach, readers may laugh at some of the titles, which make a certain impression as they accumulate: The Nude Vampire; Sex And The Vampire; Suck Me, Vampire; et al. Rollin was forever caught between the desire to create art and the need to draw in audiences, with those attracted by the titles frequently disappointed, making his situation worse. His interest in the Gothic and in nudity placed him outside the sphere of what was considered suitable material for serious art. Contributors like Howard Berger and Kier-La Janisse do a good job, here, of challenging such exclusion and articulating the potential which exists in these areas, whilst the latter also supplies an entertaining anecdote about her first encounter with him.

Though there is a melancholy aspect to it, Orchestrator Of Storms explores who Rollin was as a person with warmth and wit, and shares his enthusiasm for, as it is phrased here, ‘beauty in the grotesque and the morose and the opulent.’ It is a compelling portrait of a life devoted to film. celebrating the urge to create art even in the absence of reward, and it goes some way towards giving Rollin the staus he deserved.

Reviewed on: 30 Jul 2022
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A documentary portrait of filmmaker Jean Rollin.

Director: Dima Ballin, Kat Ellinger

Starring: Jean Rollin

Year: 2022


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