ORCHESTRATOR OF STORMS: THE FANTASTIQUE WORLD OF JEAN ROLLIN **** USA 2022 Dir: Kat Ellinger, Dima Ballin. 113 mins
Narrated by Ayvianna Snow and with Benoit Carry voicing the words of the late filmmaker himself, this enthralling feature documentary adeptly captures the influences, passion and struggles of beloved French director Jean Rollin, while attempting to convey the unique facets that have garnered him a sizable following over the decades.
Co-directors Ellinger and Ballin paint a vivid picture of “one of the few authentic independent filmmakers”, who made cinematic poems about dreams and memories existing in some netherworld between horror and exploitation. He never had the reach of better-known rival “Euro Cult” directors and, as the doc makes clear, struggled to find financing for his (very personal) films in a country where horror was not part of the national psyche and the French New Wave dominated.
Informed talking heads including Nigel Wingrove, Kier-La Janisse, Jeremy Hichey, Virginie Sélavy and David Hinds discuss his surrealist and maternal influences, early experimental shorts and his big break – courtesy of U.S. producer Sam Selsky – with RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE in 1968. Two prominent Rollin stars share their recollections: Brigitte Lahaie highlighting the apparent contradictions of a man who claimed to be both anarchist and Buddhist, and Françoise Pascal showing huge affection for her collaboration and speculating what he may have achieved with more money.
Rollin’s most famous films, his vampire pictures, are examined as bold subversions of Gothic cliches with a distinctive mood and dreamlike ambience echoing the French fantastique – “Mad poetry” incorporating a post-60s psychedelic sensibility, satirical jabs at capitalism and recurring motifs. Rollin’s refuge in hardcore porn (winning the “Golden Phallus” in the process) is covered and, alongside low-point ZOMBIE LAKE (abandoned by original director Jess Franco), welcome appreciation is afforded to his remarkable, melancholic LIVING DEAD GIRL – given short shrift at the time in a slasher-dominated genre marketplace.
The culmination of this comprehensive piece is an examination of Rollin’s deserved latter-day cult status and an extended (though powerful) insight into his health struggles and ultimate death. There is a particularly moving account from his lifelong confidante Véronique Djaouti Travers and a lovely end note courtesy of Pascal.
Review by Steven West
ARROW have released Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World Of Jean Rollin, to its subscription-based platform available to subscribers in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland