By MARK LAGER
Jean Rollin (born November 3, 1938) is a French director best remembered by many horror fans for his lesbian vampire movies. Yet, Rollin yearned to create a story that was less reliant on this formula and more poetic. The director found his muse in Actress Françoise Pascal when they filmed La Rose de Fer (The Iron Rose) at Amiens during the autumn in the Cimitière de la Madeleine.
La Rose de Fer was released in 1973 and was Jean Rollin’s personal favorite of his films. However, it was dismissed by both audiences and critics who were expecting another of his sexy vampire movies
50 years later, La Rose de Fer still casts a spell upon horrorphiles because of the ghostly graveyard and the haunting performance from Françoise Pascal. It is arguably the spookiest and subtlest film of Rollin’s career.
In this exclusive interview, Françoise Pascal shares her thoughts about the film on its 50th anniversary, her director Jean Rollin and her career.
What first influenced you to pursue acting?
Romy Schneider was a great influence in my life after seeing the trilogy of Sissi. I was hooked, and years later, I met her in Paris and related the story to her. She said, with talent, I can achieve anything. And I did.
Were there particular performances that inspired you?
Romy Schneider in Sissi, Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim [and] Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind.
When and where did you first meet Jean Rollin?
I met Jean Rollin in 1972 at Orly Airport. I forgot my passport, and both the producer, Sam Selsky, and Jean Rollin came to meet me to discuss the film at the airport.
What intrigued you in Jean Rollin’s screenplay for La Rose de Fer and led to your decision to accept the part?
The story was intriguing, and the role of the girl was also as intriguing. I turned down the Kirk Douglas film Scalawag to star in a film that was my own and a very different kind of starring role.
What research did you do to prepare for your role?
For the role, I researched in asylums in London. I wanted to know how one can be mad and who or what could drive someone mad.
Alongside Soledad Miranda’s performances in Franco’s films (Eugenie de Sade, Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy) three years before, your character in La Rose de Fer is one of the most memorable performances in horror cinema.
Thank you. We have the same look, but her style of acting is very different from mine.
What were your feelings about eroticism when filming La Rose de Fer?
There was no eroticism in La Rose de Fer. It is in the eyes of the audience. They can think whatever they want to think. I never thought of eroticism in the film. Being sensual came naturally to me – as a second nature.
In some scenes in La Rose de Fer, you appear as if spellbound in a trance. Was this the atmosphere of the locations, Rollin’s direction or your own inner magic and mysteries?
By studying the asylum patients, I learned that most of them were in a trance, lost in their own mind and soul. Rollin left me to my own devices, and I did what I learned, and it also was the magic of the atmosphere of the Cemetery de La Madeleine.
What were the most challenging moments?
The most challenging moment in the film, for me, was making love to my co-star on real human bones. As a Catholic, I thought it a sacrilege.
What were your favorite memories from filming?
My favourite moment in the film was when I was dancing in between the graves. And it was my own interpretation of dancing.
I think La Rose de Fer is, by far, the best film in Rollin’s career because it is complex and subtler than his many sexploitation and vampire movies. It is his most autumnal, melancholy and poetic film. Were you prouder of this than other films?
I think Rollin was very proud of La Rose de Fer, and I was, too … We made a good film, but the problem was his fans expected the same kind of film from him, but he wanted to show the critics and his fans that he could do a film that speaks for itself and be very creative at the same time. Unfortunately, neither his fans nor the critics wanted to know about it. I remember going to the opening of the film in Paris, and he was booed on stage by his fans, and the French critics never liked his work. It was a shame. I learned later that he had mortgaged his house to do this film … It broke my heart.
Rollin’s birthday (November 3) is only one day after All Souls (November 2), and cemeteries feature prominently in his films. Rollin seems to share this fascination with graveyards with previous French writers, such as Guillaume Apollinaire in his poem “Autumn Rhenane” and Georges Bataille in the final chapter, “Feast of the Dead,” from his novella Blue of Noon. Were you and Rollin familiar with these writings before filming La Rose de Fer?
Yes, Rollin loved cemeteries. All his films were in cemeteries … Rollin must have been familiar with the writing of Guillaume Apollinaire and Georges Bataille … I was only familiar with Apollinaire’s poems such as “Clotilde.”
What made you choose to not continue acting in horror films?
I did not choose. The business chose not for me to do more horror films.
You have acted in films, on stage and on television. Which did you find the most rewarding?
Theatre, of course. Always.