Eden and After 1969
98 mins France Director. Alain Robbe-Grillet
Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first film in colour finds him audaciously marrying his theories of narrative experimentation with a highly sensual visual style to create one of his most distinctive works. It charts the descent into depravity of a group of bourgeois students, who enter a bizarre sado-masochistic desert realm after taking a mysterious drug called “fear powder”. As their realities distort and their interrelationships diverge into master-slave hierarchies, Robbe-Grillet’s narrative becomes ever more fractured and fevered.
Partially set in Tunisia, the film’s desert setting was in fact a key factor in the film’s genesis, with the country’s red and yellow desert hues convincing Robbe-Grillet he could finally make a film in colour, having previously expressed dissatisfaction with the way Eastmancolor stock conveyed the colour green.
Drawing on an array of visual influences from Piet Mondrian to Marcel Duchamp and Paul Klee, Robbe-Grillet certainly found favour with his new palette (revelling especially in splashes of red blood), but it was arguably the theories of sonic adventurers that proved the most pertinent. The director was fascinated with the twelve-tone musical structures of August Schoenberg and Pierre Boulez, so he structured his plot as a series of twelve recurring themes rather than a conventional narrative.
Despite the rather stiff-sounding theories and formal experiments that Robbe-Grillet adopts, the film is far from a dry exercise. A tactile and playful fantasy brimming with beautiful bodies and startling images, Eden and After is not so much a mystery to unravel but rather a narcotic, sensory experience to bathe in.