Friday, 2 December 2016
It seems that the structure of narrative - and in particular, the subversion of the typical forms of those structures - was a particular point of interest to Alain Robbe-Grillet. His first film, which I reviewed last week, deliberately depicted events out of order, or with loud noises obscuring the dialogue, or showed us characters lying to each other without ever explaining why they were doing so. This film also plays with the conventions of narrative, though in a less opaque manner.
Trans-Europ-Express begins with three people on a train. They're in the film business, and begin discussing a possible script idea involving a train ride. Through the course of their own journey, we see their work of fiction unfold. A drug mule named Elias travels to Antwerp to collect cocaine; it is his first time working with this particular cartel and they put him through a series of tests to make sure he is not a police informant or an incompetent. As his adventures unfold we switch back to the trio as they question actions taken in the narrative, sometime deleting or altering events and re-telling them with new details. The longer the film goes, the more and more blurred the lines between the framing film and the film-within-a-film become.
Robbe-Grillet was also involved in BDSM activities, and this interest is also apparent in the film, both through a great deal of imagery of chained women, and in the fact that Elias can only enjoy sex when there is the illusion of non-consent. This may be a pretty triggering topic for some viewers, though I feel I should make it clear that the word 'illusion' is an important one, there. All sexual activity depicted in the film is consensual.
The first half of Trans-Europ-Express is really quiet good fun and playful, but I feel like it loses steam around the midpoint. Just as Elias gets frustrated with the run-around he's been given by his new contacts, so fatigue set in for me as I waited for something to happen.
Overall, despite my misgivings about the pacing, I'm going to give the film a (very) qualified recommendation. Its games with narrative are quite engaging at times, and it is much more accessible than the earlier The Immortal One was. But if you're not interested in such structural shenanigans, or are put off by the stuff in the third paragraph (and faie enough if you are), you should skip it.