Robbe-Grillet turned once again to painting and literature for inspiration in his next film. In 1976 he had written a ‘picto-novel’, La Belle Captive, which reprinted some of Magrittes’s paintings including La Belle Captive itself. His 1983 film of the same name used paintings by both Magritte and Edouard Manet as a launching pad, each painting a ‘generation cell’ for the film’s ideas and narrative. Magritte’s Belle Captive is a great painting – formal, poetic, mysterious, it hints at all sorts of possibilities. The drawn curtains open onto a beach and sky. In the stony foreground there is an easel and a painting that visually links the world behind the curtain with the vista in the distance. It’s an audacious, inspiring work that’s a self-conscious reflection on the process of painting, but is also eerie and enigmatic, exuding a strange beauty.
Inspired by the painting, Robbe-Grillet’s film consisted of potent fluctuations, movements between reality and irrational fantasy. As in all his film the lines between the two are gossamer thin. In another re-working of Jules Michelet’s The sorceress, the catalyst that makes the link possible is a woman. The female lead in the film, Marie-Ange (Gabrielle Lazure), wasn’t a witch, she was a vampire who captures the imagination of the male protagonist Walter (Daniel Mesguich)…she bites his neck, transporting him across the divide that separates mundane reality and erotic fantasy. La Belle Captive is laden with imagery prompted by Magritte’s paintings. In one sequence, Marie-Ange mysteriously appears within a picture frame from Walter’s room; later on he sees her through the red curtains on the beach, making her a dreamlike creature, an envoy from fantasyland where desire and terror intermingle.
Sound is an important aspect of all Robbe-Grillet’s films, and in La Belle Captive it adds to the film’s surrealist edge. The skies may be blue and clear, but the soundtrack offers different information, springing to life with ominous thunderclaps. Once again Robbe-Grillet is playing games, thwarting audience expectations, making them work at deciphering the slippery puzzle. —Immoral Tales