Apr 17, 2018

Blood and Roses

While Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is certainly the most famous gothic horror vampire novel ever cinematically adapted as indicated by important cinematic works ranging from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) to Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) to Francis Ford Coppola’s somewhat uneven Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), fellow Irishman Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla (1872) has arguably been responsible for inspiring the most ideally idiosyncratic and erotically-charged of bloodsucker flicks. Indeed, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s semi-sound masterpiece Vampyr (1932), Roger Vadim's Et mourir de plaisir (1960) aka Blood and Roses aka Carmilla aka To Die with Pleasure, British auteur Roy Ward Baker’s Hammer flick The Vampire Lovers (1970), and Spanish auteur Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride (1972) aka La Novia Ensangrentada are all wildly divergent and mostly rather memorable vampire flicks that all happen to be based on the same somewhat ambiguously lesbianic Le Fanu novella. While I personally like all of these films aside from the uniquely idiotic The Vampire Lovers starring Hebraic hoe Ingrid Pitt (undoubtedly, Madeline Smith is much sexier), I have recently become completely obsessed with the imagery of Blood and Roses and I say that as someone that has a generally low opinion of Monsieur Vadim and his rather curious cunt-crazed sub-pornographic approach to filmmaking. In short, I have to concur with the book Rough Guide to Film: An A-Z of Directors and Their Movies (2007) where it says, “After the publication of his autobiography, BARDOT, DENEUVE, and FONDA: MY LIFE WITH THREE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN IN THE WORLD, Roger Vadim had the gall to complain that his work had been overshadowed by his lovers, and that people had forgotten what a good director he was.” As the title of his (second!) autobiography demonstrates, Vadim was indubitably a shameless man (and probably some effete sort of narcissist) that put pussy on a pedestal and cared more about premium grade poontang than creating real quality cinema, though he somehow had some minor talent. As the title of the autobiography also demonstrates, Vadim seems to have nil respect for his second and least known wife Annette Strøyberg—a Danish dame that eventually banged such famous leading man as Vittorio Gassman, Alain Delon, Omar Sharif and Warren Beatty, among others international screen studs—yet she starred in two of his most notable films, including Les Liaisons dangereuses (1959) aka Dangerous Liaisons and of course Blood and Roses

 For those that ever wondered where vexatious French novelist turn cinematic auteur Alain Robbe-Grillet (Trans-Europ-Express, L'Eden et après aka Eden and After) borrowed his entire somnambulistic-babes-covered-in-blood aesthetic from, look no further than Vadim’s addictively lusciously kaleidoscopic, strangely somberly sensual, and overall gorgeous gothic horror melodrama where covert Sapphic supernatural obsession manages to effortlessly overshadow overt heterosexual incest despite the film's complete and utter lack of overt carpet-munching action. Indeed, forget the classic bean-flicker bloodsucker flicks of Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, and José Ramón Larraz, Blood and Roses is the film that started it all and female vampire Fantastique par excellence. As someone that has never had a particularly big hard-on for the whole lesbo vamp Euro-sleaze routine due to the innate phoniness and insipidity of it all, Vadim’s film reminded me that the first is oftentimes the best. Unfortunately, it seems that the film’s influence is greater than its overall popularity as a cinematic work that more or less sired an entire horror subgenre yet is not nearly as well known as many of the (largely shitty) films associated with said subgenre. Aside from showing Mario Bava the way and acting as a virtual template for Jean Rollin’s entire oeuvre, Blood and Roses was such a big influence of Japanese auteur Nobuhiko Obayashi of Hausu (1977) aka House fame that the auteur’s avant-garde short Emotion (1966)—a surprisingly aesthetically pleasing experiment in cinematic wizardry that somehow manages to be just as goofy as it is romantic—begins with a dedication to Vadim’s film. Considering that his film Lisa and the Devil (1974) features a death scene that is an obvious homage to the lead vampire Carmilla's death in Blood and Roses, one could even argue that goombah gothic horror maestro Bava virtually owes his entire aesthetic to Vadim’s vamp flick. Interestingly but not all that surprisingly considering his track record as a filmmaker that seemed to be most focused on putting his lover(s) on a pedestal, it seems that Vadim himself never intended or expected the film to be anything special, thus underscoring his overall lack of agency as a filmmaker. 

 While it does not all that surprise me that Vadim was so obsessed with premium grade golden pussy that he was willing to risk his then-budding career for it, it does somewhat surprise me that he seems to have saw Blood and Roses as a sort of worthless gift that he gave to his wife in an ultimately failed attempt to jumpstart her acting career, or as the filmmaker explained himself in Bardot Deneuve Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World (1986) in regard to the quite dubious background of the film, “For Annette’s next film, I came up with the idea of having her play a female vampire. In a role of this type her beauty would conceal her lack of experience. I should have gone to an analyst to find out why I was sacrificing my career to fulfill the desires of a Danish beauty that had suddenly imagined she was an actress. After the success of LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, I received many offers and could have directed a major international production. But I didn’t see an analyst, and in the beginning of 1960, in Rome, I began shooting BLOOD AND ROSES with Annette Vadim, Elsa Martinelli and Mel Ferrer. It was a strange work, a little ahead of its time, but nevertheless well received by some because of its esthetic qualities.” Somewhat ironically, Annette Strøyberg—a cutesy blonde that could be mistaken by some as Brigitte Bardot’s somewhat moodier doppelganger—is undoubtedly one of the greatest aspects of the film, as she bleeds lovesick pathos and a certain distinctly feminine melancholy (also, one cannot blame her for wanting her cucked hubby to make her a star as the filmmaker previously did just that with Bardot in his once-scandalous And God Created Woman (1956)).

While Vadim somewhat admirably confessed that the film was just something that he put together to appease a woman that did not seem much more to him than a poor man’s Bardot, it is unequivocally a revolutionary horror film for a number reasons, not least of all because of its virtual elevation of perennial horror cliches to something strangely artistic. Indeed, aside from creating a sub-genre that would influence everyone from Rollin to the mostly artistically bankrupt Brits of Hammer horror, Vadim rather romantic celluloid orgasm also predates George A. Romero’s Martin (1978) in terms of presenting vampirism as a morbid psychological delusion brought about by some hereditary genetic taint. Luckily, unlike Martin, there is some ambiguity as to whether or not the lead vampire’s genetic problems are supernatural or simply psychological. Personally, I think the fact that Blood and Roses is a horror film is of little consequence, at least as far as its positive attributes are concerned.   In fact, I have to assume that it would appeal more to fans of Cocteau and Robbe-Grillet than Romero, Carpenter, and Craven fanboys, but I digress.

 While Vadim seems to have been rampantly heterosexual to almost a fault, he surely owes some of his greatest gifts to the crucial aesthetic influence of a fellow frog of the proudly cocksucking sort. Indeed, while poet and cine-magician Jean Cocteau might not have ever personally directed a horror flick, Blood and Roses is surely the second best thing as a cinematic work that manages to parrot the pleasantly primitive practical special effects from classic cinematic works like Le sang d'un poète (1930) aka The Blood of a Poet, Orphée (1950) aka Orpheus, and La Belle et la Bête (1946) aka Beauty and the Beast without seeming too ridiculous or shamelessly plagiaristic.  Additionally, not unlike Orpheus, Vadim's film features a seemingly seamless mix of ancient European myth and aesthetics with the modern. Simultaneously orgasmically oneiric and lugubriously phantasmagoric, the film straddles a strangely healthy line between wholesome pre-porn exploitation and surrealist pop art, as if Vadim wanted to prove that he could sire the most tastefully trashy film ever made (in fact, I would argue that his greatest attribute as a filmmaker was his special knack for injecting the artless with art and bringing class to the classless).

Of course, it pretty much goes without saying that, like any decent Vadim flick, the auteur is completely infatuated by the female lead as if he wanted to prove to the world (and, curiously, to himself) how ravishing and mysterious his wife is. Quite unlike the erotically ebullient Bardot in And God Created Woman, Strøyberg has a sort of painfully tragic and morosely mercurial essence that is slowly but surely unleashed on the viewer so when the film reaches its climax it is only natural that she succumbs to a heartbreakingly brutal yet fittingly absurd demise. Despite her lack of experience, Strøyberg seems like she was born to play a virtual human statue in an Ingmar Bergman or Werner Schroeter flick, as she is a painfully pulchritudinous diva that reveals with a mere slight glance much more than words ever could, hence Vadim's seemingly absurd faith in her as an actress despite her lack of experience. While Mel Ferrer is technically the lead, his scenes seem like frivolous filler anytime that Strøyberg exits the screen as she is virtually the entire soul and libido of the film. As for Elsa Martinelli, she seems like a self-conscious little girl when compared to the wantonly wounded womanhood and eerie grace of Strøyberg. While it might sound like puffery, I prefer Strøyberg’s performance to that of those given by Bardot, Deneuve, and Fonda in Vadim’s much more popular films. Of course, poor little rich girl Fonda would have probable made an even worse vampire than she did as a pinko commie revolutionary. On the other hand, it would be hard to imagine Strøyberg playing the lead in And God Created Woman or Barbarella (1968) as she does not seem like she could be moronically bubbly enough. 

 Say what you will about the film’s weak storyline or glaring lack of character development, but Blood and Roses is a hopelessly hypnotically beautiful film, which is largely the result of Vadim’s cinematographer Claude Renoir (as his name hints, he is related to French master auteur Jean Renoir, as his actor father is the nephew of the filmmaker). While it could be argued that the film is an exercise in high-camp kitsch, I sincerely doubt that Vadim was operating with the same mindset as a Werner Schroeter or Daniel Schmid. Indeed, Vadim might have put a premium on cinematic pulchritude, especially where statuesque Aryan women are concerned, but he was working from a strictly (and, some would say, hopelessly) heterosexual perspective. Apparently, the film, or at least its female lead, was even beautiful enough to catch the fancy of alpha-surrealist Salvador Dalí. As Vadim explained in Bardot Deneuve Fonda, “On September 28, BLOOD AND ROSES was shown in Paris. After the rather well-received screening, the guests were invited to a party at Maxim’s. It was an unusually brilliant evening. The cream of Paris thought that having supper with a female vampire was great fun. ‘I loved your cannibal with such pink skin,’ said Salvador Dalí.” Of course, the film is practically driven by pinks and especially reds; whether it be a red rose fading to a light pink after being touched by a vamp or a vamp bleeding deep carnal red via her supple bare breasts. As the film’s English title certainly hints, certain vital fluids have an erotic energy that transcends semen and natural vaginal lube. As for flowers, they are a symbol of purity and virginity, hence why the vampiress is able to drain a rose of its red with her mere touch. 

 Somewhat abruptly and unexpectedly the film begins (and ultimately ends) on an airplane destined for Rome with a somewhat unreliable narrator named Dr. Verari (René-Jean Chauffard) as he explains to some similarly insufferably swarthy colleagues the curious tale of a bizarre love triangle of the incestuous bloodsucking (and covertly bisexual) sort. Indeed, as the good doctor explains, a tall, dark, and vaguely handsome ‘Italian’ aristocrat named Leopoldo De Karnstein (Mel Ferrer) severely suffered from a complicated situation with his fiancée Georgia Monteverdi (Elsa Martinelli) and Austrian cousin Carmilla (Annette Strøyberg). While his fiancée clearly loves him and looks forward to marrying him, it is clear that Carmilla—a highly sensitive little lady of the somewhat antisocial and aggressive sort—loves him to an even more unsettling degree, as she seems to believe they are soul mates. Although less obvious, Carmilla also seems to have strong sexual feelings for Georgia, though one gets the impression that her sexual interest in her is largely because she loves her cousin and thus desires to sexually dominate the woman that has taken away the man that she so deeply loves. As Dr. Verari describes in regard to the darkly romantic atmosphere of the story, it is “…the most secluded parts of the Roman countryside. It’s a place that inspires daydreaming. And melancholy, as well.” A bad blonde bitch and proto-goth gal with an affinity for the dark and morbid yet has the rather misleading fair golden complexion of an angel, Carmilla is quite proud of the fact that she is supposedly descended from an accursed bloodline of vampires that, aside from the exception of a gorgeous girl named Millarca, were eventually ruthlessly exterminated with extreme prejudice by local townsfolk. As Carmilla brags in regard to her ancient undead ancestor, who bears a striking resemblance to her as revealed by an old painting, “She was called Millarca. She was a Karnstein from the heyday. She passionately loved her cousin Ludwig von Karnstein. She died before the wedding in Ludwig’s arms, who swore her an everlasting love.”  Dedicated to his deceased cousin, Ludwig built Millarca a special secret hidden tomb in the family abbey, hence why she was the sole member to survive the family vampire massacre. Needless to say, Carmilla sees herself as Millarca and Leopoldo as Ludwig.  Rather unfortunately for Carmilla, Leopoldo does not love her nearly as much as Ludwig loved Millarca.

 I might be an antisocial sadist of sorts, but I found myself completely and gleefully rooting for Carmilla, even after she ‘transforms’ into a vampire and begins killing hot young maid girls. While Leopoldo boasts in regard to his family, “We’ve ceased being vampires since 1775,” Carmilla—the only surviving member of the Austrian branch of the family—does indeed adopt a vampiric form of sorts after a big fireworks show that accidentally results in the Karnstein family crypt being opened, thus leading to the anti-heroine wandering in and being possessed by her ancient vampire relative Millarca; or so it seems, at least for most of the film. Indeed, somewhat unfortunately, the film pulls a ‘gotcha’ towards the end where the dubious narrator Dr. Verari explains to Leopoldo that Carmilla has degenerated into a literally bloodthirsty schizophrenic as a result of her soul-crushing lovesickness for her cousin. When Leopoldo complains in regard to his cousin’s deadly love, “I thought she understood. That we can’t always live like daydreaming children,” the doc explains, “She never stopped dreaming. She didn’t want to suffer. So she escaped from herself by neurosis. Traumatism, neurosis, split personality . . . The defeated Carmilla became the uncompromising Millarca; the one who hurt people. When she killed Lisa, she didn’t only obey the legend. She also identified herself to the woman you love.” Somewhat ironically (or not so considering the film leaves some slight ambiguity as to whether or not she is actually a vamp), Carmilla is killed in a freak accident via a stake to the heart after dynamite is quite conveniently and somewhat symbolically used to destroy the Karnstein family crypt. In the end, the film comes full-circle, albeit with the newly wed Leopoldo and Georgia flying together instead of Dr. Verari and his pals. In a twist, it is revealed that Millarca may or may not have also come to possess Georgia’s body. 

 Rather unfortunately, Blood and Roses has never been released on DVD aside from in Germany in 2014 and this French/German language kraut suffers from an infuriating lack of cool dream scenes that are included in the unfortunately low-quality dubbed EP-speed VHS that was released in the United States by Paramount a very long time ago. Indeed, for example, an iconic scene where Carmilla’s shirt becomes magically soaked in blood is inexplicably cut short in the German DVD version, as if kraut audiences could only handle so much blood. Additionally, shots of faded rose petals, which have lost their color due to being touched by a vamp, have been completely excised from the DVD. In fact, I would argue that the American VHS contains an all-around superior cut of the film as the unintentionally goofy character of Dr. Verari is only of minor importance and instead Millarca, who provides the film with its elegantly ominous tone, rather fittingly does both the opening and closing narration. For those that prefer pure literal horror to preposterous psychobabble, the American dubbed VHS is also superior as it confirms that the vampiress Millarca has indeed possessed the female characters. Considering they have already released Vadim’s inferior (but unquestionably more popular) film And God Created Woman, one can only pray that the Criterion Collection will spare Blood and Roses from the celluloid dustbin of history and release a nice complete print of the film on Blu-ray, but I am probably being way too optimistic (realistically, I would not be surprised if Kino Lorber eventually released the film as they have already released a couple Vadim films, including the proto-Nazisploitation flick Le vice et la vertu (1963) aka Vice and Virtue, Arthur Schnitzler adaptation La Ronde (1964) aka Circle of Love, and ultra-lame caper The Hot Touch (1981)). 

 Notably, Vadim actually intended to direct another vampire flick starring his ex-girlfriend Catherine Deneuve, but it was never made because the director put it on hold to direct the somewhat uneven Jeux de Nuit (1980) aka Night Games and for whatever reason never got around to getting back to it (of course, Deneuve would ultimately star in Tony Scott’s gorgeous goth chic debut feature The Hunger (1983) starring David Bowie)). As for horror cinema in general, Vadim’s only other contribution to the genre was his somewhat lackluster segment from the Edgar Allan Poe omnibus Histoires extraordinaires (1968) aka Spirits of the Dead also co-directed by Louis Malle and Federico Fellini (undoubtedly, Fellini's masterful concluding segment ‘Toby Dammit’ makes the rest of the film seem pointless by comparison). Always a sort of whore for publicity, Vadim also managed to attach his name to the horror genre by allowing publishers to use his celebrity for the short story collection Roger Vadim présente : Histoires de vampires (1961), which was a French translation of the Italian vampire story collection I Vampiri tra Noi (the same exact collection, which features Le Fanu's Carmilla, was later published in Britain in 1965 by Pan Books under the outstandingly generic name The Vampire).

Of course, considering that Vadim was not much of a filmmaker in general, one must give him credit for managing to virtually sire an entire horror sub-genre with a single stand-alone film, but one must also at least partially credit the heroine Annette Strøyberg for the film’s potency, as she not only brings a certain sensual melancholy to the experience, but also apparently inspired real-life dread and horror in the auteur, or as Vadim pathetically recounted in Memoirs of the Devil (1976), “Annette had a special knack for disappearing at the most inappropriate moments. She began with a master stroke. I had made ET MOURIR DE PLAISIR for her. It was her own film in a way, her first big part. The producers had organized a gala evening at Maxim’s for the premiere. Annette was the star of the evening and seemed happy, surrounded by friends and the press, who had liked the film. Before the champagne sherbet, she got up and left the table. I thought she had left for a couple of minutes, but she did not return. The cloakroom lady told me she had taken her coat. The vampire had vanished into thin air, leaving no message. She had answered her lover’s call. I could understand that she lacked the courage to tell me, but not even to stay for the end of the evening, which was my gift to her and for which I had worked so hard—that was graceless of her. Since I don’t enjoy drinking when I’m really depressed, I did not have the consolation of drowning my sorrows in liquor.” In short, Vadim demonstrates that a filmmaker that puts pussy on a pedestal and dedicates his entire career to glorifying the beauty of his wives is not a man at all, but a cowardly cuck, hence why all of these beauties eventually left him.  Of course, one could argue that it takes a true cuck to shamelessly cinematically expose his wife's finer traits to the entire world.  Naturally, when one thinks of Vadim, it is hard to think of any other signature auteur qualities aside from his virtual filmic wife-swapping (after all, even Godard eventually learned his lesson in that regard).

 Needless to say, I am not the only person that has a low opinion of Vadim’s flagrant womanizing and groveling for cunt. Indeed, in the featurette Reflections of Darkness: Del Valle on Kümel, Flemish auteur Harry Kümel—director of the rather resplendent lesbo vampire flick Daughters of Darkness (1971) aka Les lèvres rouges, which was clearly aesthetically influenced by Blood and Roses—states of Vadim and his vampire flick, “It’s not as sloppy as ET DIEU… CRÉA LA FEMME or all the other, harder [films]. He’s a sloppy filmmaker. He was not truly a filmmaker, Vadim. He was a womanizer. You can be both, but still, I think his main interest—his main interest in life was—was women.” In fact, it seems that Kümel believes that Blood and Roses was mainly good due to the cinematographer, or as he explained, “It’s a film which I like, but I thought Roger Vadim was always a bit sloppy […] And Claude Renoir did a lot in that movie. Naturally, if you have a cameraman of the caliber of Claude Renoir—Claude Renoir was one of the—Well, the French had such sensational cameramen. Alekan, who did the wonderful film by Cocteau LA BELLE ET LA BÉTE. Henri Alekan, a wounderful cameraman. The French had a sensational cinema which has been completely destroyed by the nouvelle vague, you know that. It’s a complete disaster for Europe, in fact.”

Undoubtedly, had Vadim not been a somewhat older filmmaker and thus familiar with French cinema’s classic ‘Tradition of Quality,’ Blood and Roses might not have been nearly as aesthetically orgasmic. In terms of frog vampire flicks from around the same era, the underrated black-and-white short Fantasmagorie (1964) directed by Patrice Molinard and starring Edith Scob of Eyes Without a Face (1960) fame seems like what might happen if a nihilistic member of the La Nouvelle Vague attempted to assemble an avant-garde gothic vampire flick that was completely extinguished of the warm blood red erotic vitality and Cocteau-eque pop surrealism that epitomizes Vadim's film. Either way, Blood and Roses seem rather radical in terms of form and atmosphere when compared to The Vampire Lovers, which is based on the same exact Le Fanu novella. As far as I am concerned, the only true spiritual sequel to Vadim’s film is Joël Séria’s Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal (1971) aka Don't Deliver Us from Evil—a pleasantly pernicious piece of Baudelairian pastoral folk horror—as a cinematic the celebrates the very same sort of Sapphic evil that the other film less than sincerely attempts to condemn. In short, Séria’s film is the sort of cinematic work Vadim might have directed had he been more intelligent and iconoclastic and less focused on whoring out his wife (of course, auteur Séria did whore out his wife Jeanne Goupil for that film and a number of others, but he did it with more artistic integrity).  Although not a literal vampire flick, the Teutonic Heimat horror piece Nachtschatten (1972) aka Nightshade directed by Niklaus Schilling is like a morbidly nihilistic yet no less romantic response to Vadim's film where the filmmaker's wife Elke Haltaufderheide—a virtual Annette Strøyberg doppelganger—portrays a sort of metaphysical vampire of sorts that has a talent for effortlessly sapping a man of his energy, though she ultimately rightly succumbs to her own guilt-ridden spiritual sickness.  With its blood red roses, hauntingly beautiful rural setting, gothic essence, and lethally lovesick blonde anti-heroine, Nightshade unquestionably owes a heavy aesthetic debt to Blood and Roses.

 Undoubtedly, one can understand the film’s anti-heroine’s romantic plight when considers Arthur Schopenhauer’s wise words, “Belief is like love: it cannot be compelled; and as any attempt to compel love produces hate, so it is the attempt to compel belief which first produces real unbelief.” Out of her hopelessly impossible love for the male protagonist, Carmilla learns to both hate and embrace a virtual ancestral religion of blood, which is ultimately rather noble in its perversity, hence the poetically tragic nature of the heroine. Indeed, while Carmilla’s unwavering dedication to love is decidedly deadly, it also makes her a strangely admirable and sympathetic figure who seems like a lovely angelic creature compared to her all-too-bourgeois family members (to Carmilla's credit, she has seemingly nil interest in money as it is also revealed that she is much richer than her beloved guido cousin).  Indeed, when I think of Carmilla, I am reminded of National Socialist Expressionist poet Gottfried Benn's words, “Know this: I live beast days. I am a water hour. At night my eyelids droop like forest and sky. My love knows few words: I like it in your blood.”  Not unlike the eponymous lily-licking bloodsucker of the David Lynch produced Nadja (1994) directed by Michael Almereyda, Carmilla is a rare example female vampire that can compete with the great male vampires of cinema history in terms of memorability and tragic intrigue.  Of course, it was ultimately Monsieur Vadim that was the real victim of the nubile female nosferatu and for that alone, if nothing else, he deserves at least a modicum of reluctant respect for his sacrifice as both an emasculated man and hack filmmaker.  While Vadim's marriages and romances were short-lived, Blood and Roses is forever!

-Ty E

Apr 2, 2018


For me, one of the greatest perennial cinematic tragedies is a film that almost achieves true greatness, but somehow falls short in one way or another. Indeed, whether it be the extremely poor choice of sexual encounters in a Radley Metzger fuck flick (e.g. the boner-breaking pegging climax in The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)) or the phony emasculating feminism injected into Dutch auteur Martin Koolhoven’s apocalyptic western Brimstone (2016), cinema history is littered with begrudgingly admirable art that is oftentimes simultaneously intriguing and infuriating, which is certainly the way I would describe much of the oeuvre of mick-blooded English auteur Mike Figgis (Internal Affairs, Cold Creek Manor). While I have in some way or another enjoyed most of films that I have seen by Figgis, including a small chamber piece like his Strindberg adaptation Miss Julie (1999), every single one of them seems to suffer from some sort of glaring defect that makes me wonder whether or not the auteur was more suited for his original career as a musician. For example, Leaving Las Vegas (1995)—the somewhat overrated cinematic work that the auteur is best known for—is by no means a bad film yet it is oftentimes extremely unintentionally humorous in its depiction of a Nicholas Cage as a hyper histrionic suicidal dipsomaniac, which makes me assume that Figgis is, to some degree, emotionally tone deaf.

Undoubtedly, my favorite Figgis flick is Liebestraum (1991), yet it also follows the Figgisian trend of being innately flawed and, in turn, sometimes annoying. Although a pure auteurist work in terms of being written, directed, and even scored by Figgis, the film also feels frustratingly derivative to some extent, as if the director was attempting to beat David Lynch at his own absurdist game by making his own more intellectual yet similarly esoteric equivalent to Blue Velvet (1986) in terms of presenting a semi-surreal psychosexual depiction of a degenerate white bread small town. Indeed, in terms of its handsome and well-dressed but semi-autistic protagonist, eccentric and oftentimes downright weirdo characters, sex-fueled mystery and intrigue, and unflattering depiction of the dark underbelly of a small American town, Figgis’ flick is the sort of cinematic work that you would expect from a talented artist that was hopelessly naïve enough to believe that anyone aside from David Lynch was capable of being truly Lynchian. Still, Liebestraum—a film that naturally borrows its name from the Franz Liszt piano piece of the same name (somewhat unfortunately, the film features a degenerate jazz cover of the song by American negro jazz alto saxophonist Earl Bostic)—is dripping with enough flavorsome idiosyncrasy and oneiric intrigue to appeal to the more discerning cinephile. Marinated in hermetic misogyny, omnious laconic mumblings, and tastefully lurid eros, Figgis’ esoteric erotic-mystery-thriller is a celluloid puzzle fueled by warm fresh pussy juice that manages to reward any filmgoer that does not like things completely spelled out for them.

While I can understand why people are critical of the film, I truly do not understand how  Liebestraum was so ruthlessly savaged by most professional film critics when it was initially released, especially when it was made during a time that was not exactly great for movies.  For example, while his semitic frenemy Siskel had mostly favorable things to say about it, Roger Ebert clearly demonstrated he did not understand Figgis and his intent with the film when he wrote, “Figgis, who shows once again that he is a visual master, is guilty of a screenplay that is all twists and no substance,” as the flick was clearly made with a special emphasis put on style and atmospheric over narrative construction. In fact, it seems that not many critics understood or appreciated the film though in Rough Guide to Film: An A-Z of Directors and Their Movies (2007) the film is somewhat given its due with the brief line,“Tolling dangerously between memory, dream and a baleful present, this modern film noir caught something of the regret that permeates the best examples of the genre.”  Quite unlike classic film noir, the protagonist is not some cynical hard ass, but a hopeless romantic that is looking for love and manages to find it with a girl that can hardly be described as a femme fatale.  Indeed, the two leads seem like the only decent people left in the world, thus underscoring the importance and singularity of their love in a world full of prostitutes and property developers.

 Not exactly a study in intense method acting, Liebestraum is set in a vaguely oneiric and hesitatingly orgasmic world of somewhat ominous mystery and intrigue where the characters, especially the moody and broody male protagonist, seem to wander through life like somnambulists in some sort of absurdist purgatory where love is god's only reward.  In that sense, the film owes much to the silent acting of German Expressionism.  Indeed, male protagonist Nick Kaminsky (Kevin Anderson of Charlotte's Web (2006) fame in probably the greatest performance of his career)—a hunky yet somewhat pedomorphic and seemingly perennially sullen architecture professor—seems to be plagued with a serious case of Saudade, though for who and/or what does not seem apparent to him or the viewer, at least at first, though it feels as if some unseen force is pulling him in the direction of what might fill his internal void. In fact, Nick's essence somewhat brings to mind the P.G. Wodehouse quote, “A melancholy-looking man, he had the appearance of one who has searched for the leak in life's gas-pipe with a lighted candle,” so it should be no surprise that he is oftentimes both literally and figuratively in the dark. An adopted bastard that comes to a small Illinois town to be with his biological mother, who he has never actually known, during her last dying games, Nick is ultimately forced to confront a secret dark family history that will lead him to incest, albeit of a somewhat bittersweet sort. A film noir-ish gothic romance about sex, murder, and death that plays around with Nietzsche’s idea of the ‘eternal return’ in its preternatural depiction of cross-generation romantic betrayal and forbidden love, Liebestraum manages to straddle a surprisingly healthy medium between nightmare and erotic fantasy. Speaking of Nietzsche, the film also brings to mind his wonderful words, “Woman was God's second mistake,” though man does not fair much better in the film.  Indeed, judging simply by the flick, I would assume that Figgis is some sort of misanthrope as virtually all of the characters are loathsome aside from the socially awkward protagonist and his love interest.

 Whether plagued by transgenerational epigenetic inheritance or a curse, the film's hapless hero Nick and his unhappily married love interest find themselves more or less unwittingly reenacting the same exact behavior as the ill-fated parents that they never knew. By the end of the film, the viewer discovers that sometimes good sex can result in an intergenerational curse that involves the grand delight of forbidden love. Still, despite the film’s dark themes and somewhat ominous overall tone, Figgis sees the film as having an overall positive message, or as he once explained in an interview featured in the Faber and Faber screenplay, “I think LIEBERSTRAUM is important for me, in that it’s a growing up script in the sense that only by the two of them getting together do they give themselves the potential to carry on and go somewhere else – not keep returning to the house, not keep returning to that mother/father situation.” Indeed, in the erotic esoteric filmic realm of Figgis, unholy extramarital excursions can have positive life-changing outcomes, yet that is not how I initially interpreted the end, even though I rather enjoyed it. While the film concludes with a literal climax of the exceedingly erotically-charged sort, the ending somehow feels about as happy and complete as that of Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997). In that sense, the film is a curious artistic failure where Figgis seems to have done something that is arguably superior to his intent by bringing the ominous to the orgasmic in a somewhat grotesque climatic collage that combines sex and death in an inexplicably bittersweet fashion where the past literally takes its last gasp in the form of the protagonist’s mother while said protagonist passionately blows his load in his new lover-cum-sister.

 Not surprisingly considering the director, the average lemming filmgoer will probably learn more about the storyline of Liebestraum from watching the trailer than by watching the entire film. For starters, the film depicts two different extramarital affairs that take place thirty year apart, though the second affair could not have happened without the first. As depicted at the very beginning of the film, the first affair ended with the two lovers being gunned down in cold blood by a jealous unseen lover that is not revealed until towards the end of the flick. Not unlike the viewer, as the film progresses, protagonist Nick Kaminsky will eventually discover that his father, who he never knew, was one of the young lovers killed that night yet that does not stop him from putting himself in the same exact sort of situation that got his papa killed. Although now bearing the aesthetically displeasing polack surname of his adoptive parents, Nick is assumedly of Swedish racial stock as his mother is named Lillian Anderssen (Kim Novak in a rather unflattering but strangely fitting role) and he will eventually learn that his ill-fated padre carried the surname ‘Munnsen.’ At the beginning of the film, a rather dejected-looking Nick arrives to the glaringly symbolically named town of Elderstown via train so that he can provide comfort to the mother he never knew while she succumbs to cancer in a local hospital that is staffed by ‘grotesquely beauteous’ nurses that moonlight as prostitutes (or so one discovers in an imperative bar/brothel scene that was cut from some versions of the film). When Nick first visits his morbidly sick progenitor, she is completely unconscious and almost resembles a cadaver, but he will eventually discover on subsequent visits that she is a hateful guilt-ridden bitch that suffers from a sort of all-consuming spiritual (love)sickness that has been fermenting for thirty years.  While Nick will make a notable attempt to love his mother, he soon discovers that most of his emotional energy will be dispensed on a delectable dame that decided to symbolically chop all her hair off and get a dyke cut after her hotshot real estate developer husband cheated on her.

 In what ultimately proves to be a strangely auspicious insistence of happenstance that takes place near the beginning of the film, Nick bumps into an old college friend named Paul Kessler (Bill Pullman in a fitting role as a somewhat unlikable cuck)—an arrogant real estate developer—while the former is preparing demolition on a beautiful gothic “cast-iron” building that he was was admiring. Since Nick more or less saves his life by pushing him out of the way just in the nick of time after some debris falls off the roof of the building in what is ultimately an odd bit of foreshadowing, Paul is naturally quite happy to see his old buddy who now has a career teaching “architectural post-doctoral, pre-sexual-type thing” in upstate NY.  As Paul somewhat jealously explains to Nick, his wife Jane (Pamela Gidley) read and apparently even liked some of his pretentious, or as he awkwardly explains, “I read your books. Well, I didn’t read them, exactly, but I bought them. My wife read them. She really enjoyed them, she said. But then, you can never believe a woman.” Indeed, before they even physically meet, Nick and Jane are revealed to have a connection which is much deeper than the two or anyone else would have ever guessed. Naturally, despite the protagonist’s friendship with Paul, Nick and Jane will become lovers, but such forbidden love is a family tradition, or so the viewer eventually learns.  As for being unable to trust women, Paul is certainly right, or so he eventually learns in a rather brutal way.

 Not unlike Blue Velvet, Liebestraum is set in a degenerate quiet town where the center of the apple pie seems to be somewhat rancid, though in Figgis’ flick it seems that the most upstanding members of society also happen to be the most flagrantly degenerate as if their is a direct correlation between social prestige and perversity. Indeed, upon attending one of his pal Paul’s famous local parties, Nick discovers that his mother’s respected physician Dr. Parker (Thomas Kopache) is a sort of pathetic pervert that does not seem all that bothered that he is cuckolded by his slutty blonde wife Mary (Catherine Hicks of 7th Heaven fame in an unintentionally hilariously sinful role). At the same party, Nick also first meets Jane, who immediately says to him upon meeting him, “I recognize you. From the photograph in that book. Yeah. You’re Nick.” Notably, Nick also presents Jane with a bouquet of red roses that look just like ones that he previously gave to his mother while first visiting her in the hospital. While Nick apologizes for the roses being a “little sad,” Jane demonstrates her sort of (unconscious) symbolic interest in him by remarking, “I can fix sad roses.” In fact, Jane will ultimately fix Nick, at least romantically and sexually speaking, but not before a couple awkward encounters, including an incident at the party where she unwittingly begins to get dressed while the protagonist is curiously lurking around her room. 

 In what ultimately proves to be a very highly potentially deleterious yet nonetheless insightful incident that really reveals some of the underlying vulnerabilities of the protagonist, Nick somewhat foolishly decides to accept a ride home from Paul's party from an extremely drunk and belligerent cop named Sherriff Peter Ricker (Graham Beckel), who drives like a gleefully self-destructive sociopath and who makes the protagonist all the more uncomfortable by aggressively baiting him with rather rude questions like: “Do you like pussy?” Clearly troubled by the boorish cracked cop questioning his sexuality, Nick emotionally yells that he does love “pussy,” but he is not the sort of uncultivated mensch that is fond of just any old flowery cleft of flesh.  Although cut from the American MGM dvd release of the film (luckily, the scene is at least included as a special feature), in an imperative 7+-minute scene that really underscores the central themes and aesthetic tone of the film, Sheriff Peter reveals that he is not only a corrupt cop but that he also moonlights as a pimp by bringing him to a local seedy bar that doubles as a brothel. In this inordinately intense scene, an almost insufferably bitchy yet nonetheless beauteous prostitute named Cindy rather assertively attempts to tempt Nick with various pussy-peddlers, including a slut named Michelle that’s “reputation is built around her mouth. It’s big. It’s perfect” and a “bad girl” named Barbara that apparently takes brutal corporal punishment like a champ.  In between advertising the carnal merchandise, Cindy bitches out a blind prostitute named Annie for “depressing the fuck out of everyone” by playing Beethoven's ‘Moonlight Sonata.’  When Cindy asks Nick “Do you like to eat?” and he gives a less than impassioned reponse “yes,” she proceeds to stick her finger in Barbara’s meat curtain and then applies the fresh gash gravy on said finger onto the protagonist’s lips like it is lip gloss. While Nick shyly licks the cunt juice off his lips in a gingerly fashion, it is clear that he is intimidated by these dames and that he is probably only interested in Jane who has a similarly cerebral and introverted personality.  Indeed, naturally as someone that was abandoned as a baby by his biological mother, Nick clearly has problems with women so it is only natural that he ultimately falls for a similarly wounded soul. Clearly a hopeless romantic as demonstrated by his way with red roses, Nick's raison d'etre seems to be true love and with Jane he will inevitably find it, thus curing his romantic Sehnsucht.  Notably, Nick is haunted in his dreams by an aggressive little girl with red hair that seems to taunt the child version of himself.  At the very end of the film as the credits role, the same little girl is playing Liszt's titular ‘Liebestraum’ on piano in what is a fitting conclusion to this true cinematic love dream.

 Under the pretense of collaborating together on an article on the cast-iron building that is being demolished, Nick and Jane begin spending much of their time together and it is immediately obvious that their is an almost otherworldly chemistry between the two. Since her hubby Paul previously cheated on her, Jane has all the reason(s) she needs to cheat on him, but it is ultimately her love-at-first-sight feelings for Nick that cause her to cave and embrace the forbidden romance, though she is somewhat reluctant at first. Notably, before leaving for a trip to Seattle, Paul gets pathetically drunk and warns Nick not to fuck his wife by grabbing him in a less than friendly fashion and stating with a certain piss drunk passive-aggressive elegance, “This cast-iron building—you can come and go as you please, just don’t come in Jane.” Of course, Nick does eventually cum inside Jane and Paul even bears witness to the aftermath of their hot and heavy romance, which fittingly reaches its climax in the ruins of the cast-iron building. Before then, Nick must learn about his curious genetic inheritance and how sex and death have haunted his family before he was even born. Upon discovering that the cast-iron has been hated for a long time due to a scandalous murder-suicide incident that brought great shame to the area, Nick is naturally somewhat perturbed to discover that his father was one of the people killed in the incident. Indeed, supposedly Nick father’s father, Mr. Munnsen, was porking the hot blonde wife of his boss Barnard Ralston III. While it was assumed that Ralston shot Munnsen and his wife, who survived but suffered brain damage, before turning the gun on himself, it is eventually revealed via flashback that Nick’s mother shot them all while she was pregnant with him.  Seeming to die from a cancer that was sown in lovesick hatred and jealous, Nick's terminally ill mother is the seeming (barely) living antithesis of his romantic ideal. Although only really hinted at, it is also revealed that Jane is actually the sort of ungodly bastard love child of Nick’s father and Mrs. Ralston, thus making her and the protagonist biological half-siblings. Unbeknownst to Jane, who was adopted, she is also the bastard half-sibling of the surviving Ralston heir Barnard Ralston IV (Zach Grenier), who is also the one that ordered the cast-iron to be demolished. Notably, Barnard IV is a creepy little turd that creeps out Nick out so much while he is lurking among vintage mannequins inside the cast-iron that the protagonist manages to accidentally smash his head into a wall and get knocked out just from the sheer sight of the little fellow.  Indeed, seeming like the bastard progeny of Peter Lorre and a deformed gargoyle, Barnard IV virtually haunts both Nick and Jane, which is no surprise considering their accursed heritage.

 A sort of metaphysical melodrama where virtually every single character seems to be guided by some dubious foreboding fate, Liebestraum is undoubtedly most successful when it is at its most confidently ambiguous. For example, while waiting for Nick at the hospital where his mother is on her death bed, Jane attempts to help an elderly wheelchair-bound woman and gets the shock of a lifetime when she looks at the woman’s face and discovers that she is not only a braindead cripple with a large scar on her forehead where she was shot three decades before, but that she has the same exact eyes as her. While Jane has never seen this old woman in her entire life, it is obvious that she immediately realizes that this barely living creature is actually her biological mother. Needless to say, when Jane runs into Nick’s mother’s hospital room, the odious old bat freaks out and screams in an excruciatingly shrill fashion, “Oh, I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you with your legs spread!,” as she thinks that she is the same Ralston that she shot in the head 30 years before during a moment of lethally lovelorn rage and jealously. In fact, Nick’s mother Lillian is still haunted by her dead husband’s extramarital excursion and acts if it just happened yesterday, as she complains to her son in regard to the moment that she realized her spouse was cheating on her, “I began to kiss the fingers, one by one, and I could smell cunt on them.” Notably, Nick’s mother also later smells his hands and complains, “I can smell her on you,” as if she has mistaken her for her dead husband. Naturally, it is only fitting that Lillian dies at the same exact time that Nick and Jane are making love inside the cast-iron building. While Lillian dies and the building is assumedly subsequently demolished, Nick and Jane have built a hot and steamy romance, albeit of the unwittingly incestuous sort.  While Jane's husband arrives at the cast-iron with a loaded weapon and discovers that his wife and Nick have just made love, he simply sheds a tear instead of killing them.  Indeed, unlike Nick's murderously jealous mommy, Paul seems to mournfully accept the gravity of the situation as if he understands the authenticity of their love, thus bringing an end to the sick cycle of sex-and-death that has haunted the town.

As to the importance of the climatic sex-death scene, auteur Figgis himself stated, “The link between sex and death is a very strong and fascinating one to explore.  When people close to us die, the sexual urge becomes very strong as an affirmation of being alive.  In LIEBESTRAUM, the character Nick finds himself in a situation where he is visiting his mother, a mother he's never met before, a mother who is obsessed with sexual guilt and jealousy for her husband/son.  So, he finds himself in a situation where he's presented with the chance to be promiscuous: he doesn't really know why, but it's a fascinating world to be drawn into.  So, what I tried to do in the film is not to play it in a particularly sexual way, but to try and charge the atmosphere.”

 While Liebestraum technically has a happy ending of otherworldly orgasmic proportions, it somehow seems more bitter than sweet, unless you have no qualms about incestuous or extramarital affairs, but then again, as auteur Figgis once stated in regarded to the film, “There is also the fatalistic aspect of sex. People are fated to get together and it’s not necessarily to do with a kind of 1960s idea of sex being good, clean fun. The cleaner and more wholesome you make sex, the less interesting it becomes. It also demeans it as the strongest and most basic instinct we have, and separates it into a containable compartment – which American film has done.” Indeed, in many ways, Figgis’ film is like an anti-Brief Encounter (1945) as a cinematic work were the protagonist arrives via train and does not bother repressing his sexuality like the poor little lady of the David Lean flick but instead exercises his demons and delicately defiles a dame that he seems like he was practically born to love.  Personally, I find it practically impossible to relate to any sort of romance flick, but Liebestraum practically had me wishing I had some singularly beauteous unknown bastard half-sister that I could fuck.

Apparently, certain pansy American viewers found the original uncut version of the film to be so perverse that Figgis was actually convinced to excise the infamous whorehouse scene, or as the auteur stated himself, “The scene in the whore-house, as scripted – although it functions, in a sense, like a one-act play and can be lifted, as it has been, completely out of the film – had an enormously important role to play psychologically, for the leading character, with the smell of women, the taste of women, and the establishing of his character in terms of how he behaved in the situation – was not at all like something out of TOM JONES. In other words, it was not a rollicking yarn where a ‘real man’ would go in and roger those prostitutes and come out and say: I managed to fuck then of them, how did you do? Nick was very submissive and intimidated by these strong women, who also confronted him with the flip-side of the coin of how men would like women to behave, which is as demure rape victims. No, these were women who came forward and said: What would you like? They were very aggressive. And I thought it set a tone in the film which was sort of outrageous, from which the character then had to live through the rest of the film, and go through a sort of romance, and deal with his mother, and ultimately come to terms with an image which had already occurred in that scene. But at the preview the audience were horrified by the scene. They were so offended and uncomfortable, and made so hostile by having to watch this scene, that it was impossible to watch the rest of the film. It turned into a completely circus, with people shouting and leaving. There was this incredible aggression coming from the audience.”

 While Figgis made the rather absurd and virtually anti-artistic decision to cut out an imperative and highly unforgettable scene from Liebestraum, he was curiously way less tolerant of the idea of artistic compromise when it came to incorporating a quasi-pornographic interracial Adam and Eve scenario in his later experimental feature The Loss of Sexual Innocence (1999). Indeed, As Figgis stated himself in regard to his own personal cuckkampf, “At one point it almost got as far as pre-production in L.A. It was a ‘sure thing.’ They ‘loved it.’ We had lunch to celebrate and during the dessert the producers brought up a small point, something small they wished to change, something they were sure would not trouble me at all because it was so damn trivial. I was intrigued by what this tiny detail could be. They wanted Adam to be white and Eve to be black. What it boiled down to was the head of distribution was a white South African and he felt that the world was not ready to see a white woman being rogered by a black man. The script was more radical than the film turned out to be. Over coffee I refused to change the script and they regretfully said that the issue was a deal breaker and that was the end of that. The success of LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1955) is what [finally] made it possible to raise the money for THE LOSS OF SEXUAL INNOCENCE. They money was raised by pre-selling the film all over the world.” In short, for his cinematic dream project, Figgis—a mick-blooded Englishman that spent his early childhood living in Nairobi, Kenya—was unable to back down on his mission of cultural cuckoldry in the form of a film-destroying anti-fascist Adam and Eve miscegenation scenario that is sure to sicken any white man that has not already been spiritually castrated. In fact, Figgis even had his then-girlfriend Saffron Burrows—a fairly beauteous yet seemingly bat-shit-crazy chick that now lives as a carpet-muncher that is married to another woman—portray Eve and thus had the majorly masochistic and emasculating opportunity of directing his lover having sex with a pitch black sambo (incidentally, the sambo question is not exactly well endowed and seems like a burnt little rodent when in the company of the pale porcelain yet simultaneously fiery fire-crotched beauty of Burrows). 

 Were it not for its rather repugnant interracial Adam and Eve sequences and various other examples of ethno-masochism and preposterous pretentiousness, The Loss of Sexual Innocence might have been Figgis’ magnum opus, but I personally believe that both Liebestraum and his debut feature Stormy Monday (1988) are superior. An audaciously anti-American jazz-driven neo-noir starring Sting and an unbelievably young and fresh Sean Bean, Figgis’ first feature is certainly underrated and a great example of his prowess as a multi-media artist (on top of directing and penning the film, he also created the soundtrack), but Liebestraum is indubitably a more intricate, aesthetically potent, and unforgettable work. In fact, I recently had a sort of Figgis marathon and I can only come to the conclusion that the auteur has only gotten shockingly worse and worse as the decades have passed, as if he has gotten superlatively lazy and increasingly committed himself to approaching filmmaking as something akin to jazz improvisation. A huge proponent of using digital video as opposed to film, Figgis has spent the greater portion of the last two decades directing mostly worthless trash that can, at best, be described as bloody messy DV abortions. For example, I found his pseudo-Dogme 95 experiment in sapless self-indulgence Hotel (2001)—a badly botched piece of megalomanical meta(pseudo)cinema—to be so painful in terms of its sheer aesthetic insipidity and overall general incoherence that I could not even bring myself to finish watching it. On the other hand, Figgis’ most famous and successful film, Leaving Las Vegas, is by no means a masterpiece and certainly far too generic and just plain phony when compared to his greatest films like Stormy Monday, Liebestraum, and The Loss of Sexual Innocence.  In terms of his mainstream hack work like the Henry Bean penned Internal Affairs (1990) and The Browning Version (1994) remake, they are still far more enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing than Figgis' recent digital video twaddle.

 Sadly, I simply cannot see Figgis ever directing a film that can be described as an unmitigated masterpiece. For me, Liebestraum is ultimately a sort of arthouse equivalent to junk food, as a fun and highly re-watchable cinematic work that demonstrates that failed art is not necessarily bad art and that artistic pretense is not always painful and/or fremdschämen-inducing. Notably, when the film was originally released, it was oftentimes (unfavorably) compared to the superficially similarly themed Dead Again (1991) directed by Kenneth Branagh, which is somewhat unfortunate since it is like comparing Luis Buñuel to Mel Brooks. In other words, Figgis’ flick is the work of an aesthetically-inclined artist and Branagh’s film is the product of a talented yet tone deaf artisan that lacks the innate poetic flair that is typical of Figgis’ more accomplished cinematic works. Indeed, there is no doubt that Figgis is a talented artist, yet his own innate degeneracy seems to have prevented him from evolving into a great artiste that is capable of creating great works in the same league as a Bergman, Antonioni, Lynch or even a Cronenberg. Of course, Figgis in unequivocally a true auteur with his own original vision, as most of his films, especially the pre-digital ones, seem to inhabit the same fucked (and idiosyncratically sexually-charged) Figgisian universe.  In other words, in terms of British filmmakers, Figgis is more of an artist than a Christopher Nolan or a Tom Hooper, but of course art does not sell as the uniquely underrated filmmaking career of Philip Ridley (The Reflecting Skin, The Passion of Darkly Noon) surely demonstrates.

 While Liebestraum received a number of negative reviews when it was originally release, it is also, somewhat ironically, one of, if not Figgis’ most personal film, or as the auteur explained himself in an interview when asked by Walter Donohue, “I think it is. There are things in LIEBESTRAUM that when I came to write certain scenes I thought: Oh no, I can’t really put that in. It’s a little bit too – not only personal – but a little bit too intimate. It was quite a barrier to cross to actually write the film. But then, having written the film, it’s fine. There’s no problem about it any more. The interesting thing about filmmaking is that you do work these things out. And only by making these things as films, do you move on from them and, in a sense, become richer. You look at other people’s work, like Bergman. He’s worked through all kinds of strange emotional statement that he’s put on film and then gone on to something else.” Rather unfortunately, Figgis is no Bergman, but he does go slightly further than the Swedish cinematic sage in terms of sensual subversion, albeit in a curious cunt cream fashion. Judging by the glaring cultural cuckoldry in The Loss of Sexual Innocence and the preternatural passivity of the protagonist of Liebestraum, it seems that Figgis is the emasculated auteur par excellence.  Still, one must give the filmmaker credit for his honesty in terms of exposing said emasculation.  One also must give him credit for clearly both loving and exploiting film the conventions of film noir.  After all, as Nietzsche once wrote, “The good men of every age are those who go to the roots of the old thoughts and bear fruit with them, the agriculturalists of the spirit.  But every soil becomes finally exhausted, and the ploughshare of evil must always come once more.”  Unfortunately, it seems that Figgis' own soil has succumb to hardscrabble.  As to the central message one takes from a romance as raw and raunchy yet perversely passionate and authentically darkly romantic as Liebestraum, Nietzsche certainly had it right when he wrote, “That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.”

-Ty E