Not a good movie, though a prime example of audacious, rule-breaking
cinema. It’s an early seventies French film shown almost entirely in
negative exposure, which in itself makes it worth a watch.
LE GRAND DEPART (THE GRAND DEPARTURE; 1972) was the
only feature directed by the famed French painter and sculptor Martial
Raysse. In keeping with the revolutionary spirit of the time, LE GRAND
DEPART has no plot to speak of and appears to have been largely made up
on the spot. It shares a kinship with such films as
and the X-rated short THE OPERATION (1995), both of which experimented
with negative exposure (and far more effectively).
For decades LE GRAND DEPART was thought a “lost” film,
but in late 2008 it made its DVD debut (in France), to alternately
enchant and disappoint viewers anew.
The opening credits are spoken over pictures of an
idyllic beachfront landscape--but then the camera pulls back to reveal
those pictures as designs on a guy’s shirt. Said guy is watching footage
of political demonstrations on his TV, while outside a weird dude in a
cat mask rides by on a bike.
We follow the cat man into a bizarre fantasy universe
presented in negative exposure that reverses color values (black is
white and vice versa) and written words. The cat man steals a car and
then picks up a young girl he promises to take to “Heaven.” Heaven turns
out to be a country chateau inhabited by several more animal mask
There’s also a hippie cult frolicking in the woods
nearby. The cult’s leader is an intense English speaking guru who
prophecies a “Grand Departure” that will liberate his followers from
their Earthly concerns.
Somewhere in here we learn the cat man represents
death, as everyone he meets dies soon afterward--if he doesn’t do the
killing himself. An example of this occurs when he callously molests a
woman on a country road and leaves her for dead.
The cat man winds up on a “raft of freedom” manned by
the guru and his followers. The raft becomes a sort of interstellar
flying carpet that whisks them all through the cosmos. The trip is fun
at first, with the cultists frolicking and playing ball with the
Earth(!), but it eventually degenerates into a mass orgy…and the film
finally returns to normal exposure.
This dull, formless film is far from the magical
phantasmagoria Martial Raysse appears to have been striving for, but it
does have its moments. The negative exposure works wonders, transforming
drab Parisian locations into exotic dreamscapes. Of course it can’t do
much for the camerawork, which is loose and amateurish; without the
visual heightening this would likely play like a crappy home movie. Nor
is the acting anything much; the only performer who makes any impression
is Sterling Hayden as the cult leader (how Raysse convinced Hayden to
appear in this film I’ll never figure out).
Yet those interested in the unusual will definitely
want to check out LE GRAND DEPART. It provides an eye-opening look at
just how staid and predictable most movies are (comparatively speaking)
and suggests a tantalizing possibility: imagine how this film might play
were it made by a real filmmaker!
LE GRAND DEPART (THE GRAND DEPARTURE)
Director/Screenplay: Martial Raysse
Cinematographer: Jean-Jacques Flori
Editing: Monique Giraudy, Martine Kalfon
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Anne Wiazemsky, Gilles Raysse, Lucienne Hamon,
Alexandre Raysse, Jackie Raynal