A series of elegantly kinky erotic tableaux, strung together by a mock-thriller plot, this may be Alain Robbe-Grillet's most linear and accessible film. Mind you, an 'accessible' Robbe-Grillet is like a 'good' Ben Affl...展开eck movie. Strictly a relative term, and allowances have to be made.
The plot (as far as I can discern one) has Philippe Noiret as a corrupt tycoon teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Desperate to raise a few francs, he decides to fake the kidnapping of his own daughter (Anicee Alvina) and pocket the ransom. He locks the girl up for safe-keeping in a deluxe Art Nouveau brothel, where he himself is a regular client.
In real life, this 'brothel' is the interior of the Palais Garnier - for years the theatre of the Paris Opera. This may be symbolic in some highly obscure way; offscreen voices keep warbling snatches of Il Trovatore. The randy Robbe-Grillet, meanwhile, indulges in all his usual fetishes: torture, lesbianism, necrophilia... One young lady has a 'close personal friendship' with a mastiff hound.
Participating in the fun and games are a young and exceptionally lovely Sylvia Kristel and French soft-porno legend Joelle Coeur. The images are so glacially beautiful, they look like a Helmut Newton photo album sprung to life. Yet are we to take this as a serious avant-garde experiment in the style of Alain Resnais? Or is it just a slice of arty smut? Robbe-Grillet himself seems not to know the answer. Or if he does, he's keeping it well-hidden.
Watching this movie is an unquestionable pleasure for your eyes, and an unbelievable loss for your mind. But those of you who enjoy surrealism in literature, Robbe-Grillet's books, and movies by Luis Bunuel should be, to some extent of course, satisfied. Jeu avec le feu contains a lot of nudity and perversions, scenes of rape, chasing a woman with huge dogs, a sort of bestialism scene etc. Still, it is depicted in a way that makes you think you are watching the dream of a little boy with seriously (and sexually) distorted mind. This constitutes the greatest advantage of the film. From the very beginning we are exposed to illogical, non - linear action, switches of the roles among characters, and it is highly entertaining to observe how one not-so-innocent girl is trapped in such a ridiculous and at the same time oniric environment. Robbe-Grillet plays with fire here (pun intended), as he tries to persuade us into thinking that all perversions are justified if we get rid of our logic and psychological restraints. The action takes place in a brothel, where we can observe interaction between clients and prostitutes, which are usually kidnapped or forced to play a role of a sex-slave. However, they do not seem to object to their situation as much as we would expect them to. Quite the contrary, some of them seem to enjoy their experiences, to the point of accepting their being sentenced to death in order to amuse a client. But its not only about "all of us are masochists". Grillet seems to claim that if one is put into utterly chaotic environment, deprived of any point of reference, his mind will accept every, even most humble role just to get through it. Anyway, this movie is worth watching, but only for those fond of surrealism and artistic experiments. And its definitely not pornographic.
Alain Robbe-Grillet is an accomplished writer of novels (like "Jealousy") and screenplays (like "Last Year in Marienbad"), but in the 1970's he turned to the sex genre not because he was really that interested in making sex movies, but because it gave him a forum he wouldn't have otherwise had to continue making his experimental, surrealist art films (and to have them seen by anybody). In this respect he was kind of like his fellow countrymen Jean Rollin and Walerian Borozyx and (some would say anyway) the Spaniard Jess Franco.
It's hard to describe this movie. It involves a kidnapping, a brothel, a strange criminal gang in bowler hats, and a bourgeoisie couple and their maid, but even the characters are fluid and seem to transform into each other, and cinematic time and space are so re-arranged that it seems to take on the illogic of a dream. If you enjoyed "Last Year at Marienbad", you'll probably enjoy this, but if you're not such a fan of that movie there's also the added attraction of a bevy of Euro-beauties like Anicee Alvina, Agostina Belli, Joelle Coeur, and Sylvia Kristel all getting (more-or-less) naked. So this a good movie for the arty and/or the horny.
Unfortunately, it is not currently available in English (though I doubt it would make any more sense), but they recently released one of Robbe-Grillet's other later films, "La Belle Captive" on a subtitled DVD, so hopefully it won't be too long until they get around to this one.