I came across this film by chance on BFI player and without knowing anything about it or the director, thought I’d give it a watch (which I rarely do truth be told). Made by horror director Jean Rollin, it follows Frédéric (Jean-Loup Philippe), a 30-something man who is haunted by a childhood memory that is triggered when he gazes at a photograph of a château while at a perfume launch. The memory is immediately shown in which he encounters a young woman, Jennifer (Annie Belle, credited as Annie Briand), in the doorway of the château. His mother was always adamant that he imagined the woman but when the woman starts to appear to him, he knows that the only way he can figure out the mystery is by facing his childhood demons. Released in its native France as Lèvres de Sang, Lips of Blood is a film that provides violence, blood and sex where the vampires walk around in sheer dresses that billow in the wind.
The screenplay written by Rollin and Philippe is tight and compact making the pace of the film nice and fast. I found that this added to the suspense of the film, however, as we see Frédéric’s descent into madness and despair in his search for Jennifer. This contrasts with Rollin’s direction which tends to linger at points with brilliant use of close-ups and scenery, allowing the audience to become immersed in the location. It makes the film an entirely sensory experience which is elevated by Jennifer’s speech towards the end of the film where she explains that her spirit has wandered the landscape without leaving. There are also some questionable choices that Rollin brings to the film, the main scene being one where Frédéric locates the woman who photographed the château who we see photograph another woman who is fully naked and masturbating in front of the camera. It’s a scene that is entirely gratuitous and does not enhance the plot in any way but is clearly reflective of Rollin’s experience as a pornographic director. Again, the costume designs for the four vampires (particularly the two dressed in sheer sheets) screams sex. It’s bizarre to watch because these vampires are walking around public streets absolutely naked and it seems that no one bats an eyelid or even questions this.
Philippe’s performance as Frédéric brings a mix confusion and distrust as each situation proves even more bizarre than the last. He doesn’t stop to question anything and instead pushes on with his mission. Frédéric’s acceptance of the situation allows the audience to become invested in the plot with no doubt. There’s a huge shift as Frédéric is torn between his God-fearing mother and the demonic vampires in the final act. This is the moment when it seems to come to a stand still as physically and mentally, Frédéric has pressed forward without thinking for much of the film. His one fixation appears to Jennifer throughout but it is only his mother who has the ability to stop him. On the other hand, there is Jennifer who is played beautifully by Annie Belle who subverts the traditional vampire trope and makes the character ethereal and (ironically) angel-like. Rollin allows the costumes to also speak for the characters with Jennifer dressed in shades of white and off-white with various textures and layers to illuminate that not all is as it seems contrasted with the single sheered material that the other vampires wear demonstrating a freedom and fearlessness.
It’s a film that I would be interested in watching again to see what else I could take from this film. This time around I really took in the use of location, costume and the cinematography but I could see the huge amount of detail given in the props in the background. I think that there is more to this film that meets the eye, particularly with the characters of Jennifer and La Mère de Frédéric (Nathalie Perrey). On researching this film on the internet, it seems that it is a fairly unnoticed film overall so I’d be interested in watching more Jean Rollin films (the horror ones that is!) and seeing how this one fits into that collection.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!