What the public criticizes in you, cultivate. It is you. – Jean Cocteau
ORCHESTRATOR OF STORMS: THE FANTASTIQUE WORLD OF JEAN ROLLIN is a fascinating documentary about Jean Rollin, the often derided French writer and director who is frequently looked upon as little more than a director of exploitation films and pornography. The film makes a very strong case for Jean Rollin as an obsessive auteur director who was motivated by his pure love for making films and that his films are much more artistic than most people give them credit for.
The film lays out Rollin’s formative background as a child, rooted in the Surrealist movement and French Fantastique movement, that made him obsessed with telling stories as a writer and creating films as a director. It also makes a very necessary connection between sexuality and intellectualism. Far too often, nudity and sex in films are equated by prudish film fans as being beneath true cinematic art and as the work of the unintelligent. There is a huge schism, that after watching the film I believe is part of the reason why Rollin’s films were vilified by critics, between the cerebral pretensions of film fans and critics and the realities that sex and sexuality are part and parcel with the human condition and are thus worthy of inclusion in film art. As my acting coach once told me, when you shut down any part of your expressiveness as an artist, you diminish your own ability to express any part of yourself as an artist. When you deny part of your expression of your emotional core, which includes sexuality, you blunt your instrument and, ultimately, your expressiveness as an artist.
Rollin’s connections with Surrealism, Dada, and the Anarchist movement are highlighted since his work is every bit as political as the work of the filmmakers of the vaunted French New Wave, but his expression as an artist is different. Rollin’s work is every bit as obsessive as popular and revered auteurs like David Lynch, Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg, and Quentin Tarantino. It’s notable that one of the things that people mock about Tarantino is his sexualized portrayal and obsession with women’s feet. He’s held out as a figure of fun when he shows a relatively non-sexual part of women’s anatomy as sexual, I suspect because film bros are uncomfortable with an expression of that particular sexual fetish. Naked women’s breasts or butts are fine, but not feet, that’s weird. All but Tarantino had a fight for acceptance in mainstream cinema as well but are now looked upon as cherished filmmakers.
Also, Rollin is shown as a kind and sensitive soul who learned many different aspects of film craft, right down to the making of film posters, to better understand as many aspects of filmmaking as he could. More than one of his colleagues or friends or actors go on the record of how much he simply loved making films and that he would do anything that he had to continue making films and that not making films made him unhappy. He clearly lived to be able to express himself in this way.
Moreover, the film makes it clear that even though Rollin quite frequently had to add nudity and sex to sell his film that his personal artistic expression of the beauty of the naked female form or sex was not based on the exploitation mindset. The scenes from his films show female nudity as being beautiful and innocent a fact that the film directly ties to his relationship with his mother. There is a purity to the copious nudity and sexuality in the films of his auteur canon, outside of his work that was actual pornography, that is childlike and seems to worship the women that he has cast in the film. There is nothing of the cynical kind of nudity seen in other horror filmmakers’ films in Rollin’s work. For one thing, there’s no punishment for the expression of female sexuality visible in what I saw of Rollin’s work in the film that is all over the horror genre in many other films.
Another thing that more than one of the people in the film says about Rollin, and I think it is the truth, is that Rollin’s work defies categorization and that they think of them simply as Rollin films. You can’t really shoehorn his work into a category because his work is so different from everyone else’s. He was so self-driven that he was working in his own world and paid for this unorthodox attitude when his films were misapprehended by audiences and critics alike. Kier-La Janisse notes that Rollin simply had the drive to create even if people didn’t understand his work or have the tools to analyze them properly which I think is one of the best ways to describe a true auteur. The musician Anton Newcombe springs to my mind as another auteur whose work has long been misunderstood but is perhaps also getting reassessed by the public and critics and who has a similar work ethic and drive simply because what he is doing does not fit within what is currently accepted as the norm.
ORCHESTRATOR OF STORMS: THE FANTASTIQUE WORLD OF JEAN ROLLIN, directed by Dima Ballin & Kat Ellinger, is a wonderful and emotional documentation of the work of a lesser-known filmmaker who richly deserves to have that reassessment. Would that Jean Rollin was still here to see this appreciation, but it does also make the point that it is important to tell the artists whose work that you enjoy, that might not be popular, that what they do is important to you because you never know when that opportunity might not be there anymore. It makes the point that even if the artist is not here, it is still important to correct the record. Highly recommended especially for film fanatics who would like to expand their minds, philosophy, and their cinematic knowledge but I think anyone could benefit from watching this touching and informative film.
ORCHESTRATOR OF STORMS: THE FANTASTIQUE WORLD OF JEAN ROLLIN had its world premiere at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.
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