L’Invitation au voyage (Germaine DuLac)

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The only intertitle in the film is presented before it even starts. It’s rather long, and a message from DuLac herself. She presents her basic plot, a woman who goes to a bar, meets a man but he leaves her when he finds out he has a child. She then adds, that her intention with this piece is to create a world through images, this is a film of the mind, an extension of her character’s feelings and desires, and words would only disrupt that flow.

Much like her earlier work, this film is very much a work of feminist filmmaking. It channels the loneliness of femininity especially as a wife and mother. The trapped sensation of being confined by home and responsibility, that even beyond the walls of her prison, she is trapped by her own mind and the expectations that they bring. The sailors of the bar represent a sort of freedom, they ask young women to come on journeys with them, but it’s under the pretext of sexual favours, a sort of slavery. For some though, this is the only escape. There is no escape from the world of men, they rule all.

The fantasy sequences are filled with a sexualized desire, brooding seas, isolated and romantic ships and a chance at companionship. The fantasy of the male sailor is not as subtle, the images are dominated by “victory”, “war” and blatant sex.

The film also uses music in an interesting way, though a silent film… there is a huge emphasis on the female musicians playing at the particular bar. DuLac associates the arts and the musical instruments with a personal freedom, a freedom of the soul. It’s no surprise that in her earlier film I’ve seen, The Smiling Madame Beudet, the only joy in Beudet’s life is her piano.

The sailor doesn’t mind the fact that she is married in the least, he finds her attractive and perhaps sees it as an issue of another man, not his own, if the wife is unfaithful. Her child though, is something he is unwilling to deal with. Is it an issue of ownership and personal responsibility? He would not be minding the child, but it’s presence alone might be an unhappy reminder that his mistress is not carrying his own child.

It also points to how marriage is one kind of prison, but add a child, and the woman is completely undesirable. The female protagonist is once again propelled into loneliness, abandoned by her husband and then her prospective lover. The sailor also shows no shame, as he parades his new lover in front of her. He teases and shames her, making her feel completely unwanted. It’s his own revenge for the child he never met. However, even this is met with a sort of sad yearning for her. His desire overpowers his “common sense” as a male figure in society. She seems to inspires in him a desire to settle down with a family and home, without quite realising that is the very thing she is trying to escape.

Textually interesting, the film works best as a document of early feminist doctrine than anything else. The imagery may be compelling, but it’s not nearly as effective as it could be. At it’s best, the film channels a strong sense of loneliness and isolation, but I’m not sure if it’s enough to sustain interest throughout the relatively short running time.

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