Underground experimental cineaste Adolfo Arrieta is not often talked about. When he is talked about, the influence of Jean Cocteau on his works is automatically brought up. Trained as a painter, Arrieta’s films are poetic and undermined by surrealist vibes that constantly blend the lines between reality and fiction. Fans of David Lynch may appreciate his style. However, Arrieta’s films may also be very frustrating and marked by the director’s own lack of interest in them.
Grenouilles, for instance, saw Arrieta’s return to the short film format following three feature films. The return was somewhat involuntary. Grenouilles was an aborted project and remained unfinished. The director later cut a version of the film, which has been presented at various lengths. Nowadays, it is mostly seen at a little-over-half-and-hour version, though numerous sites on the internet refer to a version that is 80 minutes long. I am referring in this review to the 32-minute-long version. It’s difficult to summarize the plot, due to the fact that the film is incomplete.
The story takes place on an island in the middle of the ocean. The island is inhabited by researchers, spies and so on, who may be referred to as “frogmen” and “frogwomen.” The four protagonists are fascinated by three miniatures glow-in-the-dark frogs that were fished out from the bottom of the ocean.
Grenouilles plays within the bounds of the espionage thriller and mystery genres. The colours and lights of this movie evoke a dreamy palette that shows Arrieta’s surrealist sensibilities. The story of the film itself, or what may be understood by whatever is in existence, seemed worthy of being pursued. The miniature frogs clearly refer to some type of Lacanian object of desire, and the sexual and political undertones of the movie are intriguing. Alas, it was not to be. What remains of Grenouilles is confusing for no apparent reason, underwhelming and, in short, incomplete. – ★★
GRENOUILLES || 1983, France || Thriller || Directed by – Adolfo Arrieta / Written by – Adolfo Arrieta / Cinematography by – Claude Michaud / Starring – Anne Wiezemsky, Adolfo Arrieta, Xavier Grandès, Pascal Greggory / Running time: 32 mins.