Writer and Director. Nationality: French. Born: Brest, 18 August 1922. Education: Attended Lycée de Brest; lycées Buffon and St. Louis, Paris: National Institute of Agronomy, Paris, diploma 1944. Family: Married Catherine Rstakian, 1957. Career: Sent to work in German tank factory during World War II; 1945–49—engineer, National Statistical Institute, Paris; 1949–51—engineer, Institute of Colonial Fruits and Crops, Morocco, French Guyana, and Martinique; then full-time writer; since 1955—literary consultant, Editions de Minuit, Paris; 1961—script for first film, L'Année dernière à Marienbad; 1963—directed first film, L'Immortelle. Awards: Officer, Order of Merit; Chevalier, Legion of Honor. Address: 18, Boulevard Maillot, 92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
Films as Writer:
L'Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) (Resnais)
Taxandria (Servais) (co)
Films as Writer and Director:
L'Homme qui ment (The Man Who Lies)
L'Eden et après (and TV version N'a pris les dés)
Les Glissements progressifs du plaisir; Le Jeu avec le feu
La Belle Captive (The Beautiful Prisoner)
Un Bruit qui rend fou (The Blue Villa) (co-d with De Clercq)
By ROBBE-GRILLET: fiction—
Les Gommes, Paris, 1953, as The Erasers, New York, 1964.
Le Voyeur, Paris, 1955, as The Voyeur, New York, 1958.
La Jalousie, Paris, 1957, as Jealousy, New York, 1959.
Dans le labyrinthe, Paris, 1959, as In the Labyrinth, New York, 1960.
L'Année dernière à Marienbad, Paris, 1961, as Last Year at Marienbad, New York, 1962.
Instantanés, Paris, 1962, as Snapshots, with Towards a New Novel, London, 1965.
L'Immortelle, Paris, 1963, as The Immortal One, London, 1971.
La Maison de rendez-vous, Paris, 1965, as La Maison de Rendezvous, New York, 1966, as The House of Assignation, London, 1970.
Projet pour une révolution à New York, Paris, 1970, as Project for a Revolution in New York, New York, 1972.
Glissements progressifs du plaisir, Paris, 1974.
Topologie d'une cité fantôme, Paris, 1976, as Topology of a Phantom City, New York, 1977.
Un Régicide, Paris, 1978.
Souvenirs du triangle d'or, 1978, as Memories of the Golden Triangle, London, 1984.
Djinn, Paris, 1981, as Djinn, New York, 1982.
A Kukkolo, 1992.
Les Derniers Jours de Corinthe, 1994.
Taxandria (screenplay), 1996.
La Belle Captive: A Novel, Berkeley, 1996.
By ROBBE-GRILLET: other books—
Pour un nouveau roman, Paris, 1963, as Towards a New Novel, with Snapshots, London, 1965, as For a New Novel, New York, 1966.
Rêves de jeunes filles (photographs by David Hamilton), Paris, 1971, as Dreams of a Young Girl, New York, 1971, as Dreams of Young Girls, London, 1971.
Les Demoiselles d'Hamilton (photographs by David Hamilton), Paris, 1972, as Sisters, New York, 1973.
With René Magritte, La Belle Captive, Paris, 1976.
With Irina Ionesco, Temple aux miroirs, Paris, 1977.
The Erotic Dream Machine: Interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet on His Films, with Anthony G. Fragola, Carbondale, 1995.
By ROBBE-GRILLET: articles—
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1961.
Cinéma (Paris), February 1963.
Art et Essai (Paris), no. 6, 1965.
In Film Makers on Filmmaking, edited by Harry M. Geduld, Bloomington, Indiana, 1967.
Cinémonde (Paris), 15 May 1970.
Cinématographe (Paris), April/May 1974.
Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), July 1976.
Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1980.
Cinématographe (Paris), February 1985.
Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), April 1989.
On ROBBE-GRILLET: books—
Stoltzfus, Ben Frank, Robbe-Grillet and the New French Novel, Carbondale, Illinois, 1964.
Parnell, Martin, editor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nottingham, 1968.
Gardies, André, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Paris, 1972.
Fraizer, Dale W., editor, Robbe-Grillet: An Annotated Bibliography of Critical Studies 1953–1972, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1973.
Morrissette, Bruce, The Novels of Robbe-Grillet, Ithaca, New York, 1975.
Van Wert, William F., The Film Career of Alain Robbe-Grillet, London, 1977.
Nepoti, Roberto, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Florence, 1978.
Chateau, Dominique, Nouveau cinema, nouvelle sémiologie, Paris, 1979.
Gardies, André, Approche du recit filmique: sur L'Homme qui ment d' Alain Robbe-Grillet, Paris, 1980.
Armes, Roy, The Films of Robbe-Grillet, Amsterdam, 1981.
Fletcher, John, Robbe-Grillet, London, 1983.
Gardies, André, Le Cinéma de Robbe-Grillet, Paris, 1983.
Leki, Ilona, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Boston, Massachusetts, 1983.
Morrissette, Bruce, Novel and Film, Chicago, 1985.
Stoltzfus, Ben Frank, Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Body of the Text, London, 1985.
Roland, Lillian D., Women in Robbe-Grillet: A Study in Thematics and Diegetics, New York, 1993.
Harger-Grinling, Virginia, and Chadwick, Tony, editors, Robbe-Grillet and the Fantastic: A Collection of Essays, Westport, Connecticut, 1994.
Hellerstein, Marjorie H., Inventing the Real World: The Art of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Susquehanna, 1998.
On ROBBE-GRILLET: articles—
Huston, Penelope, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1961.
Brunius, Jacques, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1962.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1962.
Doniol-Valcroze, Jacques, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1963.
Ashmore, Jerome, in University Review (Kansas City, Missouri), Spring 1964.
Art et Essai (Paris), February 1967.
Filmcritica (Rome), November/December 1967.
Ward, John, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1968.
Avant-Scène (Paris), June 1968.
"Robbe-Grillet Issue" of Kinema (London), June 1968.
Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 12, 1970.
Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1970.
Film Comment (New York), May/June 1973.
National Film Theatre Booklet (London), September/November 1973.
Films and Filming (London), January 1974.
Avant-Scène (Paris), June 1974.
Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Paris), Christmas 1977.
Doniol-Valcroze, Jacques, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1982.
Doniol-Valcroze, Jacques, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1985.
Journal of Film and Video (Boston, Massachusetts), Fall 1990.
Creative Screenwriting (Washington), vol. 3, no. 1, Summer 1996.
Filmihullu (Helsinki), vol. 3, 1997.
* * *
Alain Robbe-Grillet had already published four novels before he came to the cinema as screenwriter of one of the most controversial and innovative films of the early 1960s, Alain Resnais's L'Année dernière à Marienbad. Subsequently his work as a novelist has continued alongside his filmmaking activity, often pursuing its own distinctive paths though undoubtedly influenced by the preparation for publication, as ciné-romans, of three of his scripts. L'Année dernière à Marienbad is a complex work in which the diverging contributions of its two very different authors can now be seen more clearly than in 1961, when discussion of the film tended to be based on the self-proclaimed myth of their perfect collaboration.
Robbe-Grillet's own work as a writer-director has followed paths very different from Resnais's and falls into two periods of very unequal value, with La Belle Captive coming as something of a coda in 1983. Between 1963 and 1968 Robbe-Grillet made the three black-and-white feature films on which his reputation as a filmmaker largely rests. L'Immortelle, set in Turkey and dealing with a trio of characters designated in the published screenplay as simply L, M, and N, is strikingly original in his handling of narrative. In effect it constitutes a set of variations and distortions on the themes and stylistic devices set out in its 22-shot prologue. Trans-Europ-Express, Robbe-Grillet's most approachable film, combines its play with reality and imagination with a humor hitherto absent from his work. Full of mirror images, disguises, distortions of reality, impossible happenings, and duplications, the film makes no pretense of having a conventional narrative. Rather the plot invents itself as it proceeds, creating and ignoring problems, inconsistencies, and downright impossibilities. Robbe-Grillet's major work as a director, L'Homme qui ment, carries these formal experiments through to their logical conclusion. Shot on location in Czechoslovakia and set in an old chateau amid the forests, it is the story of a man who invents his own character, past, and emotions as he goes along. But the words which create his reality are eventually turned against him and he is driven back to limbo in the forest. Though lacking a coherent plot in the conventional sense, L'Homme qui ment offers many of the same satisfactions as a normal narrative through its complex patterning in terms of symmetry, reversal, and inversion. By fastening on two basic aspects of the film image—its unique present tense quality and its potentiality for an inextricable mixture of reality and falsehood—Robbe-Grillet has fashioned a film which is both approachable and highly innovative.
Robbe-Grillet's color films of the early 1970s—L'Eden et après, Les Glissements progressifs du plaisir, and Le Jeu avec le feu—are equally novel but far less successful. On a thematic level they are undermined by a blatant and self-indulgent eroticism that never achieves the distance which would allow the obsessive subject matter to acquire an aesthetic impact. For this reason these films, which experiment with overelaborate and virtually unreadable serial structures, come to resemble all too closely the drab and dispiriting commercial exploitation movies whose stereotyped formulas Robbe-Grillet claims to be parodying.
Robbe-Grillet's status within French cinema is controversial and his situation is not helped by his own taste for both oversimplifying and mystifying his work. Many of the conventional critics and historians of French cinema ignore his work—like that of Marguerite Duras—altogether. But Robbe-Grillet's work, particularly the masterly L'Homme qui ment, has enormous theoretical interest and its impact on a whole generation of young French critics and theorists has been both profound and fruitful.
—Roy Armes, updated by David Levine
The French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet (born 1922) achieved fame for his innovative techniques in writing fiction. Influential in avant-garde Paris intellectual circles, his controversial critical theories regarding the concept of the modern novel were fulfilled in his own narratives.
Born in Brest, Alain Robbe-Grillet was educated at the Lycées Buffon and St. Louis in Paris and at the Lycée de Brest. Having received his engineering degree from the National Agricultural Institute of France, he pursued a scientific career as an officer at the National Institute of Statistics in Paris from 1945 to 1948. Later, as an agronomist for the French Institute of Colonial Agriculture, he traveled extensively in the tropics, particularly Morocco, Martinique, and French Guinea, for 3 years. Robbe-Grillet joined the publishing house of Minuit as a literary director in 1955, married 2 years after, and was subsequently named a member of the High Committee for the Preservation and Expansion of the French Language.
Robbe-Grillet and his coterie—a select literary group composed of Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor, Bruce Morrissette, and Claude Simon—opposed the bourgeois, or Balzacian, novel of humanist tradition, preferring the geometrical precision and clinical exactitude of a scientific-literary approach. Robbe-Grillet, in particular, demonstrates a post-Sartrean sense of the alienated character and claims as the inspiration for his novels "the first fifty pages of Camus's The Stranger and the works of Raymond Rousset" (the latter is a little-known author who died in the 1930s). Critical analysis has also recognized the profound impact of the novels of Franz Kafka and Graham Greene on his work.
Known as the first "cubist" novelist and a "chosist," for his obsessive focus on inanimate objects, Robbe-Grillet initially described the nouveau roman and became the leading exponent of the New Wave in contemporary French literature. His revolutionary theories are based on the premise that man's perception of his milieu is distorted by his bourgeois background and its resulting emotionalism. Condemning the metaphorical phrasing of many existentialists, Robbe-Grillet attempts to illustrate in his fiction that all illusionary language falsely indicates a possible relationship between man and the material universe. The world is not man's domain, the novelist's essays and narratives insist, and objects exist independently of the transitory emotional content of human life. Characterized by an objective accuracy in its detailed descriptions, his writing is bare of intangible, inferential adjectives.
The Erasers (1953), Robbe-Grillet's first novel, appears to be a conventional detective thriller but thematically reworks Sophocles's Oedipus Rex. Intended as a comic parody, the narrative illustrates the chosist technique in its intense focus on the India rubber of the title as an antisymbol. Le Voyeur (1955) explores, without either conversation or interior monologue, the psychology of a rapist. The exaggerated realism of the physical descriptions imposes a dreamlike air of surrealism on this work.
The past, present, and future are juxtaposed in Jealousy (1957), an experiment with time and space elements, and humanity is characterized by mere behavior patterns, the identity of individuals being refined out of existence. The potential lushness of its tropical setting, based on Robbe-Grillet's equatorial travels, is deliberately reduced to a monochrome of color, measured distance, and tone and shape, with photographic precision. The antisymbol appears again, this time in the form of a centipede that to the nameless hero represents the image of jealousy itself. All indications of the subjective eye of the author are removed, resulting in a new literary mode. In the Labyrinth (1959) emphasizes the cinematic play of light and shadow over an endless expanse of snow. The Antonioni-like monotony of the landscape is reflected in the rhythm of language, and an unconventional attempt is made to suggest inner reality through the external vision.
At age 40 he embarked on a parallel career as screen-writer and director. Robbe-Grillet's finest effort may be the film scenario Last Year at Marienbad (1961), which reads like a novel and is written in the "continuous present." The film, directed by Alain Resnais, created considerable critical controversy and captured the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. In this scenario, the most objectively pictorial of Robbe-Grillet's fiction, space has been created as a function of psychological time, and the internal conscious reality exists in terms of external objects with endless repetitions of long, empty corridors, baroque ceilings, mirrored walls, and formal gardens. The surprising commercial success of the film permitted its author to undertake other cinema efforts, notably The Immortal (1963), the first film he both wrote and directed and and winner of the Louis Delluc prize and Trans-Europe Express (1967).
A central figure in France's last literary movement, Le Nouveau Roman or New Novel, Robbe-Grillet published Towards a New Novel (1962), a widely acclaimed collection of essays in which he defends his literary thesis against those who say it lacks humanity; Snapshots (1962), a collection of short stories; Topology of a Phantom City (1976) and Recollections of the Golden Triangle (1978), which are primarily collages of collaborations with artists and photographers; and Djinn: a red hole between disjointed paving stones (1982), a light, humorous novel originally written as a textbook, titled Le rendez-vous (1981), with Cal State Domingues Hills Professor Yvone Lenard. Evolving from Robbe-Grillet's interest in film were two cinematic novels, The House of Assignation (1965) and Project for a Revolution in New York (1970), so called because they have the feel of a film, but are remarkably anti-visual. Robbe-Grillet also wrote and directed the films: The Slow Sliddings of Pleasure (1974), Playing with Fire (1975), The Fair Captive ((1983), and The Blue Villa (1995).
A three-part imaginary autobiography of Robbe-Grillet includes: Ghosts in the Mirror (1991), Angéleque, or the Enchantment (1988), and The Last Days of Corinthe (1994). For Robbe Grillet in English, see Understanding Robbe-Grillet (1997); The Erotic Dream Machine: Interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet on his Films (1992) by Anthony Fragola and Roch Smith; John Fletcher, Alain Robbe-Grillet (1983); Ilona Leki, Alain Robbe-Grillet (1983), Ben F. Stoltzfus, Alain Robbe-Grillet and the New French Novel (1964). See also Bruce Morrissette, Alain Robbe-Grillet (1965). Robbe-Grillet is discussed in John Sturrock, The French New Novel (1969) and Raylene Ramsay, The French New Autobiographies (1996). English criticisms of his work, include: Marjorie Hellerstein, Inventing the Real World: the Art of Alain Robbe-Grillet (1998); Lillian Dunmars Roland, Women in Robbe-Grillet: a Study in Thematics and Diegetics (1993); Raylene Ramsay, Robbe-Grillet and Modernity: Science, Sexuality, and Subversion (1992); Bruce Morrissette, Novel and Film: Essays in Two Genres (1985); Patricia Deduck, Realism, Reality, and the Fictional Theory of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Anais Nin (1982); and Victor Carrabino, The Phenomenological Novel of Alain Robbe-Grille (1974). □