EDEN AND AFTER (1970) Blu-ray
Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet
Redemption Films/Kino Lorber

Redemption Films gives a Blu-ray makeover to EDEN AND AFTER, one of Alain Robbe-Grillet's most visually stunning and narratively complex films, as well as the lesser-seen variant N. TOOK THE DICE.

In a maze of sliding glass and pop art called Eden, a clique of French students – having found what conservatives have described as their habits of "group rape and homosexual prostitution" wanting – gather nightly to play games like hide and seek (that end in gang rape), perform improvised stories, and enact death rituals (starting with a bit of Russian roulette). Into their milieu wanders the mysterious Dutchman (Pierre Zimmer, LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE) who beguiles them with fakir magic tricks and introduces them to a "fear powder" (snorted like cocaine, but that's already on the menu served with Coca-Cola at Eden along with quinine) that sends heroine Violette (Catherine Jourdan, LE SAMURAI) on a hallucinogenic trip (cue shaky camera POV and faces distorted by wide angle lenses). She agrees to an assignation with the Dutchman later that night at an abandoned factory, but he does not show up and she gets lost in the labyrinth and terrorized by pursuers that might be her friends. The next morning, she finds the Dutchman lying dead in the Danube clutching a postcard of a Tunisian house that when turned on its side resembles the abstract painting left to her by her uncle; a painting which her friends had made the focus of a performance piece in which they planned to murder her and her uncle, flee to Tunisia, and sell the painting to an American museum. She brings her friends to the river only to discover that the body has disappeared and no one believes her. When she returns home – after recovering her key which she had given to the Dutchman as part of a game – she discovers the painting is missing. She winds up in Tunisia in search of the Dutchman and is drawn into a series of sadomasochistic games and is captured by her friends who are looking for the painting and plotting against one another. Did her trip end at Eden or has it only just begun?

While an interview with Robbe-Grillet conducted by French TV presenter Frederic Taddei is usually the major extra of these releases – and there is one here – the most significant extra for EDEN AND AFTER would have to be N. TOOK THE DICE, prepared for French TV (but never screen) in 1971 utilizing alternate takes, outtakes (including plenty of B-roll footage of Tunisian locals), and new footage in which Richard Le Duc (THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE) – Marc-Antoine in the original film – creates an entirely alternate narrative based on rolls of a trio of dice. Violette becomes Eve, engaged to the youngest of the Cortez brothers (Sylvain Corthay's [Rivette's OUT 1] Jean-Pierre in Paris shots without a beard, while the elder is him with a beard in the Tunisia scenes) and abducted by a white slaver (Zimmer) with the students now attempting rescue (apart from one or two who are once again more interested in the painting). Poison becomes a magic potion that gives one super strength and kills another, the painting becomes loses its market value and becomes a way of one Cortez brother luring Eve from the other, and the Dutchman's models become caged slaves. Although stimulating in the context of EDEN AND AFTER, N. TOOK THE DICE would probably be unsatisfactory as a standalone feature. Le Duc's narrator sometimes straining to keep maintain a cohesive narrative, even stating as Sonia (Jarmila Kolenicová) looks for the painting in the Dutchman's house that she threatens to overtake Eve's story, and the throw of the dice mechanism may even have eluded most French viewers had it ever aired (rather than becoming available later on as a bootleg that went long untranslated for English-speaking fans).

Released theatrically stateside by Grove Press offshoot Evergreen Films, EDEN AND AFTER was only available since then as bootlegs of a 16mm print that were faded without diminishing the film's striking sense of composition while hinting at its use of color. Ripley's Home Video in Italy released a DVD from an older HD master (colorful but edge-enhanced), but Redemption Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 Blu-ray is sourced from a newer HD remaster (also Italian). The Eden studio interiors and the Tunisian exteriors (the Tunisian house interiors seem to have also been shot on soundstages) look bright, colorful, and crisp while the backlit factory exteriors almost anticipates eighties MTV-styled cinematography. There is little depth, but that is intentional as Robbe-Grillet states in his interview (even more so in SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE). Technically an entirely different film, N. TOOK THE DICE was released separately from the former film back when Ripley's released their Robbe-Grillet discs in Italy (since it never played, it had not Italian dub like their other releases), and it had its own disc on the French Robbe-Grillet nine DVD boxed set. Also encoded in MPEG-4 AVC at 1080p24 and framed at 1.66:1 from an HD master, the uneven look of the film appears to be the fault of the original photography since it is composed heavily of unused takes with a couple shots exposed differently (the shots of Jourdan dancing around the bonfires are darker with deeper night blue skies and redder flames and skintones) and one or two shots seemingly poorly focused (rather than intentionally dreamy or "druggy"). The animation of the credits is mostly the same, but there is no montage of voices as there is on EDEN AND AFTER's titles (so the text "images et lumiere" and "partition musicale" are added to the credits for Igor Luthor and Michel Fano where their positions were once spoken), and the sequence is significantly shortened. The LPCM 2.0 French mono tracks on both films are clean and bold, with Michel Fano's sound score jolting and jangling the nerves. The optional English subtitles are free of errors.

The interview with Alain Robbe-Grillet, conducted by French television presenter Frederic Taddei (30:55) is less illuminating about the narrative because of the way it had been structured. The viewer learns more about how developments in pre-production took the story in certain directions. Catherine Jourdan – who Robbe-Grillet had seen in a French club doing "The Jerk" – replaced the original actress whose hair had fallen out when she dyed it henna, and Jourdan herself had cut her long, flowing blond hair short knowing that Robbe-Grillet wanted an actress with long hair; however, at the start he did not know that she would be the lead. The cast members were given the same schedule and paid the same salary because there was no script when the production started, and Jourdan managed to stand out sufficiently for Robbe-Grillet to focus the film on her. Although the notion of doubling was always a part of the project, Robbe-Grillet cites some happy accidents like having to replace Jourdan's dress (ruined in the Danube scene) with a matching one that had slight variations, as well as meeting cinematographer Igor Luther's fiancée who bore a striking resemblance to Jourdan (including the same short hairstyle). He had resisted shooting THE MAN WHO LIES – Robbe-Grillet's previous French/Slovakian co-production – in color because of the way the Eastmancolor at the time captured greens, and he eliminated the color as much as possible from the palette of EDEN AND AFTER (Tunisia itself had virtually no greens, with even the date trees possessing greyish fronds). In distinguishing EDEN AND AFTER and N. TOOK THE DICE, he says that the first was based on the musical concept of serialism (in which a series of themes and motifs are arranged) while the latter was based on the concept of aleatoric music in which the choice of the combination of those themes and motifs are based on a throw of the dice. The former rupturing narrative continuity while the narration on the N. TOOK THE DICE attempted to create a cohesive narration from elements organized at random. The disc also includes trailers for the feature (2:40), THE MAN WHO LIES, and TRANS-EUROP-EXPRESS, as well as a 2014 promo for the "Alain Robbe-Grillet" collection. (Eric Cotenas)