The Movie Waffler Arrow Video FrightFest 2022 Review - ORCHESTRATOR OF STORMS | The Movie Waffler

Arrow Video FrightFest 2022 Review - ORCHESTRATOR OF STORMS

Orchestrator of Storms review
The life and career of French filmmaker Jean Rollin.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kat Ellinger, Dima Ballin

Orchestrator of Storms poster

Like many cult movie fans of my generation, I discovered the films of French filmmaker Jean Rollin via the Redemption video label back in the 1990s. Known for their distinctive black and white covers, usually depicting female models in a state of undress, Redemption amassed a catalogue of European cult cinema of the 1960s to '80s and marketed them to a hungry '90s audience. The filmmakers that found their work on the Redemption label ranged from auteurs like Mario Bava to trashmeisters like Jess Franco. Rollin was something of an anomaly in this group. An out and out surrealist, his films may have been heavy on sex and violence but they weren't designed to thrill or titillate. Rollin's movies have a melancholy atmosphere like no other. They often feature vampires, usually in the guise of nubile young women, and Rollin shoots his beautiful stars against a backdrop of physical and natural decay, in the crumbling castles and weed infested cemeteries of rural France. The nation may be dying, but its vampires live on. To paraphrase Dazed and Confused, France keeps getting older but the vampires stay the same age.

Orchestrator of Storms review

Genre buffs Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger are of that generation who likely discovered Rollin through Redemption and '90s genre magazines like Flesh & Blood. Their documentary Orchestrator of Storms takes an in-depth and loving look at the life and work of a man who, like so many artists, never earned the respect of his own countrymen. Various of the doc's talking heads surmise that Rollin came along at the wrong time in French cinema. He arrived in the post-New Wave 1960s and by the time of his feature debut, 1968's Le viol du vampire (which caused a riot on its Paris premiere), French cinema had become intensely political. Though a politically active person himself, Rollin had no interest in aligning his politics with his films. He had little interest in narrative either, preferring to create an atmosphere through visuals for his audience to bask in.

Orchestrator of Storms review

Ballin and Ellinger have opted for an academic approach, eschewing the usual gimmicky graphics and wah-wah soundtrack you usually find in appraisals of cult filmmakers. This is reflected in the choice of interview subjects, a mixture of Rollin collaborators and critics. It's a refreshing and respectful approach. The absence of filmmakers is striking however, given how influential Rollin has proven in recent decades (Off the top of my head I can think of the ghost rising from the well in Ringu and the scythe-wielding killer in Hostel 2 as two explicit Rollin references). The critics and historians involved provide valuable theoretical insight, but it would have been nice to hear from someone who put Rollin's philosophy into practice.

Orchestrator of Storms review

Unlike some filmmaker overviews that focus on the hits and brush past the inevitable late-career decline, Orchestrator of Storms devotes as much time to Rollin's heavily dismissed later works as to his celebrated early cult classics. It charts how he was able to take advantage of France's new liberalism of the 1970s, a time when he even indulged in outright pornography, and how he struggled with the commercial sensibilities of the 1980s. What's most surprising about Ballin and Ellinger's doc is how much time it devotes to Rollin's physical decline and his ultimate death from cancer, recalled emotionally by those who knew and loved him. Orchestrator of Storms is a loving tribute but a melancholy one. In the end we're left thinking of Rollin's body of work as another vampire that continues to live on, bringing eternal beauty to the landscape of French cinema from beyond the grave.

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