Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin (2022) Fantasia Review

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Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin, from here on simply Orchestrator of Storms, is a long overdue examination of the works of French filmmaker Jean Rollin, a man who has been labelled everything from an auteur to a pornographer and a hack.

Writer/directors Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger have worked together on several previous documentary shorts about genre films and filmmakers such as The Tale of Mr. Corman and Mr. Poe and The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves as well as on individual projects. However, coming in at an hour and fifty-two minutes Orchestrator of Storms is anything but short.

Orchestrator of Storms picks up almost from the moment of Rollin’s birth to a father who worked in the theatre and a mother who had been an artist’s model. It was his mother who raised him after his father left. The film explores how her social circles and the men she was involved with, mostly artists and philosophers, along with the cinema and comics shaped his tastes and ambitions.

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From there it follows Rollin as he enters the film industry, from an internship behind a desk to working as an editor during his time in the French Army. And eventually making several short films and his first feature, Le Viol du Vampire (The Rape of the Vampire). It also documents the artistic and political unrest in France at the time and how his surreal films were at odds with the rise of the French New Wave and the forces that were driving people to the streets in protest.

At this point, Orchestrator of Storms moves into territory those familiar with the director will recognize. His struggle to find financing for his projects and the compromises he had to make to get them made. That includes his eventual disillusionment with filming his own projects and the resulting several-year-long detour into directing hardcore porn where he would meet the actress who would become his muse in films like Grapes of Death, The Night of the Hunted and Fascination, Brigitte Lahaie.

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Unfortunately, while Ballin and Ellinger had plenty of film clips, including plenty of NSFW footage, as well as people to interview about Rollin, Orchestrator of Storms suffers from a lack of the man himself. Rollin died in 2010 and since it wasn’t until late in his career that his films began to develop a cult following there isn’t much in the way of archival footage or interviews with him.

There is extensive input from actresses Brigitte Lahaie and Françoise Pascal who starred in what many consider his best film, The Iron Rose. We also hear from film historians Virginie Sélavy and Kier-La Janisse as well as Nigel Wingrove whose company Redemption Films released several of Rollins’ films to the home video market. But while they can offer up reminisces of him or interpretations of his works it’s not the same as hearing it from the man himself.

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I do wish Orchestrator of Storms had a bit more on the two Jess Franco projects Rollin finished A Virgin Among the Living Dead and the infamous Zombie Lake. Zombie Lake with its big box VHS release was probably the first, and possibly only, of his films that many people saw. It also leads me to wonder why Franco, whose films are similarly unique but not as good, is so much better known and regarded.

Orchestrator of Storms will obviously appeal to fans of the director as well as genre historians. General fans curious about him and his films should find it interesting if perhaps a bit deferential. Orchestrator of Storms has been picked up by Arrow Films and recently screened at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. After its festival run, it’s only a matter of time before it turns up on Blu-ray and/or Arrow’s streaming service. In the meantime, FilmTagger can suggest something similar.

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