Oct 25, 2013
After by chance discovering his penultimate high-camp quasi-Nunsploitation flick L'araignée de Satin (1984) aka The Satin Spider, I felt it was time to dig up more films by the somewhat wrongfully forgotten French auteur Jacques Baratier (La poupée, Dragées au poivre), which not surprisingly, turned out to be a tedious task, especially where English subtitles where considered, yet I did manage to track down a copy of the froggy filmmaker’s blasphemous avant-garde flick Piège (1970) aka Trap aka Die Falle. Featuring a curious cameo by Spanish filmmaker/playwright Fernando Arrabal (Viva la muerte, I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse) as a prophetic yet perturbing proprietor of an anti-vermin rat poison/trap shop in an exceedingly eccentric epilogue about how the devil used to be a fly but now is a pink pig, Piège is a sacrilegious and sadomasochistic surrealist black-and-white medium-length (running at just under an hour) ‘haunted house’ flick of the ghost-less expressionistic experimental sort that plays with horror genre conventions just as much as it wantonly wallows in S&M imagery, especially leather and whips. Starring French New Wave divas Bulle Ogier (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Maîtresse) and Bernadette Lafont (The Mother and the Whore, Out 1: Spectre) who are invited (or more like demanded to come) to the mansion of a perverse, posh young man and wreak hedonistic havoc not unlike the savagely sweet Slavic ladies of Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) aka Sedmikrásk, Piège is a work that falls somewhere in between Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929) aka An Andalusian Dog and Alain Robbe-Grillet and Jacques Rivette’s 1970s ‘games’ films as a sort of satanic cinematic nightmare of fiercely fetishized illusions and delusions that ends in an apocalyptic manner resembling the aftermath of Europa after the Second World War. Featuring ominous rat trap demonstrations, busybody nuns riding bikes in classic nun regalia, safe cracking by way of femme blowtorching, lipstick lezzy BDSM, fetishistic face plastering, and various other forms of sexually-charged pseudo-existentialist eroticism, Piège is certainly a work of its time in that it is an exceedingly experimental work that has not aged as gracefully as other films typical of its time, yet still makes for an entrancing celluloid oddity of sorts. Featuring a delightfully dissident and haunting score by François Tusques (probably best ‘remembered’ as the man behind the soundtrack of Jean Rollin’s The Rape of the Vampire (1968) aka Le viol du vampire) that bares a striking resemblance to some of the more instrumental tracks from the album Only Theatre of Pain (1982) by American deathrock/goth group Christian Death (the singer of the band, Rozz Williams, co-wrote/co-directed and starred in the S&M serial killer short Pig (1998) before committing suicide), Piège is a macabre yet merry modernist horror flick of the kinky Kafka-esque sort (Franz is even name-dropped!) that, when everything is said and done, is too kooky to be creepy, thereupon making it a cultivated carny sideshow that does not know whether it demands respect from the viewer or to offend them, which is certainly a specialty of wacked out maestro Fernando Arrabal, who steals the show as a sort of degenerate street philosopher with too much time on his hands.
A debauched bourgeoisie fellow simply credited as ‘Le jeune homme’ aka ‘the young man’ (played by circus performer Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée, whose sole claim to fame is that he married Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Victoria Chaplin) walks into a shop entitled “Vermin” looking for traps to use on sexy young girls and gets a lesson or two by the somewhat sinister shop owner (Fernando Arrabal). Arrabal gives the young man a couple demonstrations regarding the efficiency of his traps by using an egg as the bait. Preaching a couple lesson from the commie playbook, Arrabal makes some absurd argument how material objects cannot be stolen, stating, “What can be stolen…Not material things anyway. So if it’s not material things, then it’s spiritual things…Perhaps, Perhaps…Because you’ll have noticed, here we have all kinds of traps. But we don’t have hog traps. I’m afraid there isn’t something pig-like in this fear of theft.” After prying for personal details from the young man and learning that he is a deflowered Taurus, Arrabal arrogantly states to his customer, “I apologize for being so frank with you. But there is a pig, a pink one, inside of you. I’ve set a trap for you. I told you: Take the machine to kill flies, because the fly is the devil but it was the devil of another era. Now the devil is a pig. A pink pig. Who will look like David Niven. Who will be very elegant. Who will be very, very chic. And that. It is inside of you,” which the young twink seems to have no response to upon hearing, as if he is immune to incendiary insults. Meanwhile, two nosey nuns are riding bikes on the street, with one of the holy women stating regarding a girl they are both concerned about, “She’s an angel who has too often been possessed by the devil. She’s always mixed up in dirty business. There’s never the impression, nor the truth besides, that she’s told the truth. And what’s even stranger is that she’s found among thieves. And troublesome elements who aren’t even thieves. The underworld who emerge more numerous each day, from the slums of Paris. And who are enraged. She prevents, they say, the students from studying. The workers from working. And they steal.” The girl that the two nuns are speaking about is Bulle Ogier (credited as “La seconde voleuse” aka “the second thief”) and when she randomly appears on the street as the two spiritual sisters blabber, she pays them no mind and joins her thief cohort Bernadette Lafront (“La première voleuse” aka “the first thief”). Not much later, the jaded young man appears and steals bubbles from a prepubescent little girl, blowing the bubbles in a pretentious manner than only a Frenchman could. While continuing to blow his heart out, the young man pompously and psychopathically demands Bulle and Bernadette’s absolute attention, stating, “Listen to me, please. You must come to my place. You really must. I’ve loads of precious things. Jewels, stones, animals, lots of things. There are no guards there. I don’t need, don’t like them. You must come to my place because… Because I want. It’s urgent. You must both come. I don’t like single women. Here is my card. Anyway, you won’t find it. No one does” and then subsequently disappears just as abruptly as he first appeared.
Indeed, beauteous babes Bulle and Bernadette do find the house and instead of knocking on the door like normal people, they invade the place A Clockwork Orange-style and immediately start wrecking it like a bunch of juvenile degenerates who merely destroy for destruction’s sake. The girls find a portrait of the young man hanging on a wall and cut out the eyes and his eyes magically appear where holes were cut, as if looking through the two gorgeous yet goofy thief gals' souls. The girls also blowtorch a safe and find a dismembered finger inside, which Bernadette sniffs (it must have smelled good as it seems to give her pleasure). Considering the only thing he does while the girls destroy every inch of his house is watch while hiding amongst the shadows, one at first assumes the young man is simply a masochist voyeur with so much time and money on his hands that he gets a kinky kick from seeing his personal possessions destroyed (after all, material things cannot be stolen, at least according to Arrabal), but he eventually joins Bulle and Bernadette, allowing the girls to make an exaggerated plaster of his face and even putting him in sort of electric chair, thus proving he is truly a masochist, but inevitably the tables turn. In no time, a sharply smirking Bulle is tied to the ground and receives major masochistic pleasure from a leather-bound female dominatrix, who whips the girl for the young man’s pleasure. In the end, both Bulle and the young man die when a random explosion occurs, which leaves the two embracing one other in a normal S&M-free fashion that neither of them seemed capable of when they were living, thus making it a most ironically romantic death. In the end, film’s unofficial narrator, Arrabal, concludes Piège by stating, “It's a story. You would think it ended badly. He tried to know and he was burned alive. It reminds us of Sodom imprisoned in the castle like Kafka. And the fire arrives. Whereas, he believed it was water, he thought he could fight the fire. It has not been possible. The pig that was in him died. With…the acolytes who had women’s heads. Me, I consider this story as a premonitory dream. Although I know nothing of it since I never saw it, nor filmed, nor told it,” thus providing an apt analysis for Jacques Baratier's celluloid excursion in sadomasochistic surrealism.
The pseudo-sinister yet stylishly sleazy sadomasochistic tale of two Catholic girls gone wild for the raunchy riches of a pretty boy Lucifer character with an unhealthy obsession with chicks with whips and who has an unshakeable fear of being robbed yet ultimately provokes two cutesy kleptomaniacs to execute that fear thus destroying not only all his material wealth but also himself in the process, Piège is ultimately preposterous enough in its story to be entertaining due to its calculatingly cliche anti-bourgeois sentiments and its rather shallow and stereotyped characters, but more importantly, it features enough exquisite phantasmagoric imagery to keep one’s blood pumping until the brutal yet beauteous end. In its keen cinematic combo of the sexually and sacrilegiously absurd, Piège seems like the sort of proto-punk/goth flick Belgian auteur Roland Lethem (La Fée sanguinaire aka The Bloodthirsty Fairy, Le sexe enrage aka The Red Cunt) would have assembled had he decided to be slightly less pornographic in his choice of imagery. Additionally, I would find it hard to believe that director Jacques Baratier did not see the surrealist short La femme 100 têtes (1968)—a work based on Teutonic Dadaist Max Ernst’s 1929 collage-novel of the same name that was directed by French auteur Eric Duvivier (son of filmmaker Julien Duvivier)—before directing Piège. If nothing else, Piège is schlock celluloid surrealism that is certainly second (or even third) rate when compared to the best of Luis Buñuel or even Fernando Arrabal, yet still makes for a sweet, cheap treat for the initiated. As I can only assume from watching two of his films, director Jacques Baratier, not unlike fellow froggy French filmmakers Jean-Pierre Mocky (L'Albatros, Litan) and Alain Fleischer (Zoo Zéro, Rome Roméo), is a would-be-master-auteur who manages to straddle the healthy medium between classy and trashy cinematic surrealism, with Piège being a perfect example of this as a work too discernibly derivative to be groundbreaking and too art-addled to be utilized as a cheap masturbation aid. For those that like the sexy celluloid mind games of Alain Robbe-Grillet, but are far too inebriated and/or lazy and need a break from “phenomenological” cinema, Piège makes for a pretty philistine delight that can be defecated out of one's mind just as fast it is swallowed, though some images will certainly stay with you forever. A sort of patently preternatural, apocalyptic parable for the post-WWII generation, Piège also makes for a great risque romantic comedy for depressed Goths and born-again psychopaths.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:26 PM
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