There are many instances of people obsessed with movies eventually becoming filmmakers themselves, or critics for that matter. The subject of co-writers/co-directors Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger’s documentary, Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin, is no exception. The Eurocult French filmmaker at the heart of this documentary would often combine sexploitation with horror, but his surrealist visuals and odd storylines left many moviegoers feeling like the director was in a category all of his own.
The filmmakers tell the life of the eccentric auteur while trying to give Rollin his just due as a creative storyteller. Sadly, he received very little fanfare or credit during his lifetime, with one festival organizer telling the story of how she felt defeated when there was a small turnout for a Rollin movie. Yet, the man himself was elated and said, “I’ve never had so many people at one of my films!”
Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin starts with Rollin’s childhood in France, where he visited the cinema every week. As a lad, he loved comic strips and was greatly influenced by his mother and her artistic friends, including Maurice Blanchot, George Bataille, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Prévert, and Pierre Prévert. Surrealism, counterculture, and sexual freedom were all themes that Rollin encountered growing up, which consequently had a huge impact on his movies.
“…trying to give Rollin his just due as a creative storyteller.”
The filmmaker made a slew of vampire flicks early on, but they were so different that they didn’t catch on with the horror hounds. His producer made sure that Rollin also utilized sexploitation to ensure a small box office return, but the strangeness usually turned that crowd off as well. He was mostly reviled in his home country and only received a small cult following in English-speaking circles after his movies became available on home video in the 1990s.
It’s a shame that Rollin wasn’t fully appreciated during his lifetime because he definitely had a unique visual flare. He would combine outlandishly surreal imagery, such as a gigantic bat, gothic mansions, or monuments on the beach, with Penthouse-level nude actresses to impose a striking style. As a viewer, you can’t take your eyes off of the screen because his films are a gorgeous trainwreck. Impressively though, Rollin’s career lasted for five decades, despite struggles to get financing. He directed hardcore porn for a time under a pseudonym and battled health issues in his later years. The man certainly led a fascinating life and career for someone with such an enormous passion for filmmaking despite the lack of success.
With a runtime of an hour and fifty-two minutes, Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin could be shorter. I enjoyed the abundance of info on this overlooked filmmaker, but it sometimes got redundant. Many people (especially awards voters) do not see the exploitation/horror genres as an art form, yet Ballin and Ellinger posit that Rollin elevated those genres to such a place. Documentaries are fantastic at spotlighting people and issues that go unseen, and whether you think Rollin’s work is art or trash, it should be seen.
"…whether you think Rollin’s work is art or trash, it should be seen."