Sunday, February 12, 2023


Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin (2022) d. Dima Ballin/Kat Ellinger (USA) (112 min)

In the press release, we are presented with the following, “Has there been a genre artist more fundamentally misunderstood and inappropriately discussed than Jean Rollin? He remains one of genre cinema’s most singular poets, a theatrical fantasist, interpreter of dreams, orchestrator of storms. His recurring use of twin or paired protagonists and surrealistic interpretations of vampirism, with tones that were often in the midnight space between gothic literature and fairy tale, his sense of humour and intellectual musings, his sumptuous visual ideas, coming together to make inspired works of genre art that ran against nearly all traditions of the times they were made in.”

Orchestrator of Storms, which had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival, is indeed a long overdue examination of this French filmmaker whose distinctive voice continues to resonate for horror fans old and new. Thanks to his mother Denise’s friendship with figures such as Maurice Blanchot, George Bataille, Jean Cocteau, as well as Jacques and Pierre Prévert, Rollin was raised within the bosom of some of France’s most influential and intellectual elites, which helps inform viewers who might find themselves adrift when seeking a narrative drive… or a narrative thread, for that matter. This context is probably the documentary’s greatest strength. Where it fall short, in my opinion, is its failure to examine the continuing themes and motifs that consistently appear throughout his work.

Despite a nearly two-hour running time, there is little to no mention (guesswork or otherwise) of his attitude toward women, which is bizarre considering his prominent usage of them as heroes, villains, sex symbols, victims, monsters, or sometimes a combination thereof. It seems impossible to discuss Rollin without addressing this in some fashion, and yet, Ballin, Ellinger, and their assembled talking heads – which include scholars David Hinds, Madeleine Le Despencer, Kier-la Janisse, and Virginie Selavy, actresses Brigitte Lahaie (Fascination, The Grapes of Death) and Francoise Pascal (The Iron Rose), Redemption head honcho Nigel Wingrove (responsible for introducing Rollin to the video market), and family friend Veronique D-Travers – have managed to do just that.

Equally puzzling is the failure to discuss the recurring imagery of castles, beaches, cemeteries, murdered birds, clowns, and the problematic (particularly in this day and age) extended scenes of sexual violence. Presumably people seeking out a documentary on a French auteur are desiring equal amounts of art and artist, and it’s not an entirely successful presentation of the former, with no shortage of questions left unanswered and even more prompted by their absence.

That said, we do get some worthy context about his childhood and inspirations, as well as welcome information about how his first feature, the wildly daring and experimental The Rape of the Vampire came into being, originally intended to be additional footage to be included into the 1943 George Zucco feature Dead Men Walk before turning into a short subject that then ballooned into a feature in its own right, which explains the strange shifts in narrative and aesthetic. We also learn how the film premiered in May 1968, a period marked by deep political protest over workers rights, where it met with violent opposition and objects hurled at the screen!

For better or worse, however, his subsequent efforts do not receive the same background treatment, which is disappointing to fans who have come to the table hoping to gain insight or at least a conversation. Instead, the films are dutifully listed in their order of release date, with a few comments in passing, before moving on to the next. Not much effort is expended tying together Rollin’s oeuvre as a whole, which is a missed opportunity considering the amount of time given to rambling stories about rarities like The Scent of Mathilde or a late-career appearance at Janisse’s film festival.

Overall, despite these quibbles, this is a valorous attempt at capturing one of Eurocult cinema’s most enigmatic figures, one that mirrors its subject in not aspiring to general audience favor. Ballin and Ellinger are interested in presenting their Rollin documentary, not necessarily THE Rollin documentary. There are many satisfying moments interwoven with pacing issues and curious omissions, where we wonder, “Why this and not that?” which feels quite in keeping with the singular vision under discussion.

Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin debuts exclusively February 14 on ARROW-Player in the US, UK, Canada and Ireland.


Jon Kitley (Kitley's Krypt), S.A. Bradley (Hellbent for Horror), Aaron AuBuchon (Discover the Horror), and AC settle in for a lively conversation about Rollin's cult standing within the horror genre, as well as his distinctive aesthetic, as well as our individual thoughts on the documentary itself. Check it out HERE:


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