Elusive Existence

The groundbreaking French novelist and filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet, who died in February, was a sly and good-natured provocateur. His screenplay for Alain Resnais’ watershed 1961 romantic drama, Last Year at Marienbad, introduced the arthouse crowd to a strain of bemused existentialism that he polished to a fine point in his own movies. The curtain parts Dec. 4 on Enigmas and Eternity: The Films of Alain Robbe-Grillet with Trans-Europ Express (1966), a deliciously tongue-in-cheek yet heartfelt rejoinder to the early James Bond flicks. A stone-faced drug courier (the perfect, and perfectly handsome, Jean-Louis Trintignant) takes the train from Paris to Antwerp for his first assignment; the movie’s marvelous conceit is that Elias’ story is concurrently invented by a writer (the mustachioed Robbe-Grillet himself) and two associates on the same train. Miraculously, the director simultaneously delivers an engrossing (and kinky) underworld yarn while deconstructing the genre’s contrived situations and characters. His fascination with the elusiveness of experience, and modern man’s slippage between memory and fantasy, drives his 1963 debut L’Immortelle (screening Dec. 11). A French professor on leave in Istanbul falls for a mysterious and unobtainable beauty whose disappearance (or abandonment) pushes him dangerously out of his comfort zone. It’s a revelation to discover that Robbe-Grillet, whose films have long been all but unavailable to American audiences, was a bridge between and an inspiration to Luis Bunuel (That Obscure Object of Desire) and Michelangelo Antonioni (The Passenger).
Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Dec. 4. Continues through Dec. 18, 2008

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