Friday, 23 December 2016
N. Took the Dice (1971)
Early on in this film, the narrator speaks directly to camera. He criticizes the traditional form of fiction, with its mostly linear narratives, recognisable lines of cause and effect, and generally clear conclusions. Mysteries on screen for together like jigsaws: they never have pieces missing, or left over. Such stories are false and dead in his eyes, and do not reflect how real life works.
I've little doubt that this little speech is Alain Robbe-Grillet talking to us, simply using the narrator as his proxy. All of his films to this point (and from what I've read online, his novels too) have rejected this 'classic' structure of fiction, and it's clear that he feels that structure to be easy, moribund and false, whereas his own work is challenging, fresh and real.
Frankly, I don't agree with Robbe-Grillet's conclusions. While it is true that real life is rarely so neat as the stories we tell on screen or on page, I personally think that it requires considerably more craft to deliver a coherent and 'tidy' story than an inconsistent and untidy one.
So N. Rolls the Dice has a lot of work to do to persuade me that its "realistic" portrayal of a story is superior to a more straightforward and clear narrative, and Alain Robbe-Grillet doubles down on that challenge in the way he made the film. You see only a small portion of the scenes here were actually shot for this movie. Most of the footage used is either scenes from Eden and After, or additional footage shot for that film, but not used in the final product. I think Robbe-Grillet's done this to underline the artificiality of traditional narratives - he's saying they only make sense because they are deliberately structured to make sense.
With a different narrator and different (as well as differently-ordered) events, the story here is similar but different to that of the earlier movie. We now have some sort of conspiracy against a young woman the narrator calls 'Eve' - it's not her real name, he tells is, but he can't remember what is - which sees her kidnapped for unspecified purposes. She escapes with the aid of some magic powder, and begins pursuing a painting, which may or may not have had something to do with her kidnapping. She's not the only one looking for it, though.
So how does this bold challenge to traditional narrative work? Well, not very well, frankly. The film's twenty minutes shorter than Eden and After but is tedious enough that it feels twenty minutes longer. A lot of the narration - and there is a lot of narration - feels very forced, too, as the narrator tries to fit scenes filmed for another reason to the story he is telling. And then there is the dubbing-in of dialogue: when characters speak they almost always do so from off camera, because of course they originally spoke different lines, so their lip movements would not match up. This is very obvious and distracting while watching the film.