Les lèvres rouges

 (Harry Kümel, Belgium/France/West Germany, 1971) 100 minutes


Director: Harry Kümel
Producers: Paul Collet, Henry Lange
Screenplay: Pierre Drouot, Harry Kümel
Cinematography: Eduard van der Enden
Editors: Denis Bonan, Gust Verschueren
Music: François de Roubaix
Delphine Seyrig (Countess Bathory)
John Karlen (Stefan)
Danielle Ouimet (Valerie)
Andrea Rau (Ilona Harczy)
Paul Esser (Hotel clerk)
Georges Jamin (Retired Policeman)

Reviews and notes

2016 Kanazawa (Japan)

Stranded in a palatial seafront resort hotel in out-of-season Ostend, newlyweds Stefan (Karlen) and Valerie (Ouimet) find themselves in thrall to the hotel's only other guests, the Countess Elisabeth Bathory (Seyrig) and her surly but sultry companion Ilone (Rau). Tension within the young couple - Valerie is pressurising Stefan to inform his disapproving mother of their marriage - is exploited by the countess when she rouses Stefan to ecstasy with an account of her ancestor's unquenchable thirst for blood. Three young women, meanwhile, have been found murdered in nearby Bruges, their bodies drained, and the hotel concierge (Esser) can't get past the fact he remembers the countess staying at the hotel 40 years previously, and she hasn't aged a day. There are neither fangs nor longueurs in this sumptuous blend of lesbian vampire flick and European art movie. The casting of Seyrig, trailing memories of Marienbad, is inspired, and her swooning performance bewitches the entire cast. Kumel casts his own spells with alternating blue washes and red dissolves, and skilful location work that doesn't allow you to see the join between hotel exteriors and interiors - in Ostend and Brussels respectively.
- Nicholas Royle, Time Out.

Re-released more than a decade after its 1971 debut, Daughters of Darkness has lost none of the eerie, subterranean fascination it held for its original audiences. Indeed, the film may well have gained in potence over the intervening years just because it is so much a creation of its time, not of ours. Seen today, the elegantly orchestrated scenes, remote artistocratic atmosphere, mutely staring camera and strong reliance upon stylishly concentrated performances rather than stock scare effects for the chills it evokes make the film look "old-fashioned" in a perfectly natural way that somehow enhances our anxious involvement with its themes.

Vampirism as a spiritual compulsion is frightening enough when undertaken seriously on the screen. But vampirism undertaken voluntarily for the sake of sexual gratification and the promise of eternal youth strikes very close to home indeed. It is, in fact, the real stuff of which the legend is made, the dark, human stuff lying not that far below the civilized veneer, and director Harry Kumel, renowned on the Continent for his pre-occupation with the dark side of human nature, has a very special way of making us realize that those strange figures up there on the screen aren't just "other people".

Delphine Seyrig, looking as enigmatically beautiful as she did in Last Year at Marienbad (which in itself adds yet another unnerving dimension to the film's timeless quality), plays the perpetually young Countess with a wonderfully balanced mixture of joie de vivre, old-world sadness, erotic urgency and charming Carpathian menace.

How seriously Kumel meant Daughters of Darkness to be taken was a subject of some considerable disagreement among critics when the film first appeared. Needless to say Miss Seyrig gives nothing away along those lines. And one can safely assume that what Harry Kumel finds enormously amusing may not seem at all so to us. But then the same can be said of Polanski making Repulsion or Werner Herzog with Nosferatu, and Daughters of Darkness is a film very much in the same league.
- George Robert Kimball< Films and Filming, November 1984.

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