Whirlpool of fate is a silly film. I wouldn’t call it bad, nor would I call it good… just silly. The plot is not particularly interesting, and overall the visual style and quality of the filmmaking is not strong enough to raise above it’s meagre script. Easily Renoir’s weakest film that I’ve seen, I’m starting to believe the claims that Renoir doesn’t hit a stride until his work with sound are correct.
The film stars Catherine Hessling, Renoir’s wife at the time, as a young woman who loses her brother and is at the mercy of her brutish uncle. The film is presented in a serialized format, and in each sequence we witness her happiness dissolve through a series of unhappy twists of fate. It’s pure melodrama, and while I’m usually quite partial to the style, it leaves little to the imagination in this case, and never reaches beyond the very literal.
Even a rather stylistically beautiful dream/nightmare sequence, is taken to literal “extremes”. The haunting nightmares of Virginia’s waking life, wreck havoc in a translucent daze until she is quite literally saved by a knight on a white horse. It’s certainly the most evocative sequence of the film, though I wish it moved beyond the obvious. The real highlight however, is a rather short sequence where she travels a barren landscape in slow motion. It’s a moment of figurative bliss in an otherwise shallow film, and it’s easily the standout.
There isn’t much else to say about this film, as there really isn’t much to it. For a solo debut (Renoir had done a collaborative film beforehand), it’s quite strong, but still doesn’t compare to his French contemporaries who were also making their first plunge into the cinematic medium. It does, however, show a natural talent for depicting nature and the outdoors. The scenery and lighting is always quite beautiful, and there is a very strong sense of it’s involvement in the story. Several sequences reminded me of Partie de Campagne and the Lower Depths in particular.