Whirlpool of Fate (Renoir, 1925)

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.

French Film, 1925

French physicist and astronomer, Henri Chretien, invents the anamorphic objective lens, which contracts images vertically perimitting wide-screen movies. It is ignored until the 1950s, when his invention is patented as Cinemascope.

Georges-Michel Coissac publishes L’histoire du cinematographe/History of Cinema, the first history of filmmaking.

Whirlpool of Fate (Jean Renoir)

Le Voyage Imaginaire (Rene Clair)

Poil de carotte (Julien Duvivier)

Entr’acte (Clair, 1924)

An absurdist, experimental short. Rene Clair proves himself very early in his career as having a unique talent for both music and cityscapes. Though a silent film (accompanied by a score), the sense of movement created through action as ell as editing parallels that of well orchestrated music.

Entr’acte, means “between acts” or “intermission” in French. The focus supposedly on the ballet from Russia, Clair prefers to focus to focus on the ballet of the city. In one sequence, using slow motion (or asking from his actors to move at a slow pace, I’m frankly unsure), he captures the mood and movement of Paris through it’s people and actions. He would later reprise this idea in Paris qui dort, but robbing the city of it’s “wakefulness”, creating effectively a ghost town. The beauty of Paris lies therefore as much in it’s people as it does in it’s monuments, a synthesis of mind and body.

The ballet in principle, is the drama and artistry of movement. The action and drama of this film is inspired and driven by the running and chasing. It’s not acrobatic per say, but Clair manages to unnerve a grace in the everyday. A trust that the ballet of life is as interesting as the ballet of the stage. Is this an early reflection on cinema? The ability to exaggerate and project the movements of life to create a marriage of action and emotion without the gross need for grandiose movements or performance. The camera itself working as the choreography, the editing the dancers, and the players…. are the players?

The film is absurd in the most delightful way, obviously rooted in Dadaism, the basic “plot” involves an out of control coffin that has the town in pursuit. Brief cuts of the ballet are interjected, and then subverted them. Unlike something like Un Chien Andalou (which is more surreal than dada, and yes there is a difference), this film is pure whimsy. It’s not rooted in horrific or even subversive fantasy, but a whimsical comedy. This film is, for lack of a better word, delightful. It’s fun, it’s light and it’ll put a smile on your face.

French Film, 1924

Rene Clair’s film Entr’acte, sees a new brand of Dadaism/surrealism known as instantanéisme emerge for the first time on the screen. Founded by artist Francis Picabia, the movement was meant as a protest against surrealism, and was rooted in the ballet. The film itself uses the groundwork of Picabia’s ballet “Relâche”, to propel it’s ideas, and he even makes an appearance on the rooftop during part of the film. As was the fashion of the time, a manifesto was even drawn up, and it’s difficult to deny that Clair’s work was not greatly inspired by it’s ideas;


The idea of life and perpetual motion seem especially crucial to his development as an artist, and even his later work, it’s difficult to divorce his style from the ideas proposed by Picabia.

The Inhuman Woman (Marcel L’Herbier)

Entr’acte (René Clair & Francis Picabia )

Au secours! aka Help (Abel Gance)

The Double Life of Veronique (Kieslowski, 1991)


Watching The Double Life of Veronique, I can only describe my emotional experience, as a feeling that my skin was too tight. Even I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it certainly evokes that crawling emotional tug that at your very soul. It moves beyond simple emotional and intellectual appeal, reaching even deeper at something that is as mysterious as life itself. Is that what Kieslowski is exploring? I’m not entirely sure. What I remember from Trois Couleurs: Rouge was a fascination with the interconnectedness of life, the idea that our impact on each other is not miniscule, but crucial. Though made several years before, this film takes this idea to an entirely new level, presenting the idea that two lives and souls can be joined without ever knowing the other exists.

What can I say? One of those cases where a film pushes me back, and I am struck with awe. I am hit with the powerful confrontation of witnessing and experiencing something special and rare, even though I don’t quite grasp why or what is happening.

What struck me as the revelatory moment was perhaps Veronique’s sudden bout of melancholia, an incredible sense of mourning even though she hasn’t lost anything or anyone, at least nothing that she is aware of. It’s presented in an intimate scene, that though I’d say is very “warm”, is characterized by loneliness. It took me a lot longer to realise how much of the film is simply us watching Veronique live. It’s even rare that she would share the screen, or scene with anyone else. If she does, for the most part it’s passive or inquisitive. There is still a pervading sense of isolation. The comfort that she finds lies more in mysterious packages she receives in the mail, and a song that is not only eerily beautiful, but serves as a link to her loss. The audience knows why it holds such a powerful effect, which makes it’s use as a theme throughout the latter half of the film so affecting.

I think it’s in this that the film’s effect felt so profound, that same loneliness that’s familiar, even when surrounded. The little joys that make it surmountable, and the promise of happiness of love, however distant. Even though a very real part of Veronique dies, there is still a life to live. A life filled with discovery and surprises, and opportunity. I wonder, though… is that part really dead, or does it continue to live in through Veronique instead? Is she now occupying two souls instead of one?

There are many mirrors in this film, some reflect, and others shatter or distort. The only strong conclusion I can make about the film, is that it’s dealing with the soul, and it’s incredible possibilities. I don’t know what a soul is, I don’t even know if I have one, but The Double Life of Veronique makes me believe that one exists. Is that a strength? Or am I subscribing to a faith, that I’m not even sure I believe it? I don’t really understand, this film has left me confused and broken. I feel invigorated and saddened all at once.

What of the relationships? Sexual or otherwise, they hold grand importance in the life of our beautiful protagonists. The role of the father seems incredibly important, there is a non-existent mother in both cases, death was too soon for both. Both women seem to have a healthy sexual appetite, but some reviews/essays I read suggest a willing, or perhaps, unwilling allowance of dominance. I’m not sure if I agree, though there is certainly a submissive nature to each of them, almost a naivety. The relationships seem more to point to a wholeness, as at their height, allowing for a fullness that both lack. Veronique especially searching for someone to replace that emptiness she feels. I think it’s a natural yearning for connection and, what I can only conclude as a sort of need we have for others. The soul perhaps does not exist in one piece, and must be put together through the meetings and encounters we make. Maybe?

I don’t really know, I did like it.



The Smiling Madame Beudet (Dulac, 1923)


The Smiling Madame Beudet, is known by many to be the prototype of feminist cinema. Directed by female director, Germaine Dulac, the film explores the role of the woman within society, especially the confined role of the domestic wife. Dulac is categorized by most scholars as an impressionist director, the style emphasizes the subjectivity of cinema, focusing on the emotional and psychological interpretation of events, rather than the rational and objective ones. Told from the point of view of Madame Beudet, the film uses extensive symbolism and fantasy to express the frustration of her circumstances.

Married to a brutish and crude man, Madame Beudet’s only comforts are her piano, and imagination. However, even the freedom of her music is controlled by her husband. He not only has the key to her piano, but during a short sequence, mocks her impassionate playing to a friend, using it as grounds for “male-bonding”. The abuse she suffers, is almost entirely psychological, as every aspect of her life is controlled and monitored. She is confined to the interior, which is classically the world of women. An especially common metaphor in pre-1970s art, the world of women is manifested as the world of domestication and the home. Dulac manages to subvert this symbol, by creating a prison through the use of windows and linear imagery, literally creating a prisoner of her character. Furthermore, even the traditional roles of womanhood associated with upholding the household and home are shown to be under the jurisdiction of the male, as he subverts and abuses even her most menial task. Though, I think it’s possible to read this as a yearning for traditional roles, I think the film emphasizes the lack of functionality of her life, opposed to her inability to take hold of her “birthright”.

This is reinforced by the symbol of the flowers, that Madame carefully arranges, only to be re-arranged brutishly by her husband every time. His lack of respect for her passionate pursuits are inexcusable, but somehow, him intruding on her “flowers” seems inexplicably crude and violent. Though there is an undeniable link between a flower and the female genitals, I doubt this is meant to be a metaphor for a sexual attack (though the film makes it perfectly clear of Madame’s lack of sexual fulfillment), but rather the very symbol of femininity. A flower kept in a vase does not have the same freedom as one growing out in the open air, but at the very least, it’s able to reach for the sun from it’s place on the table. The husband’s almost constant fiddling destroys it’s harmony, and emphasizes the complete control men have over women. The women are not even given the freedom to thrive freely within the confines of their home, and are left with little more than their own body to control.

The mirror becomes an important motif in this regard, as it seems Madame is constantly drawn in and subsequently terrified by her own reflection. An older woman, she seems to yearn for the vivacity and naivety of youth. Though one can barely imagine she was ever happy with her husband, her desire for male companionship and a sexual relationship gives insight into her deepest needs. She yearns simultaneously for courts of law, and justice, one can assume at the very least she wishes for a divorce. Her reflection teases her though, as her sadness reflects the loss of her youth. It is very easy to freely criticize the shallow nature of “femininity”, though it’s unfair to detach it from hundreds of years of oppressive domination. If a woman cannot even control her home, or her bedroom she is only left with her appearance. If she does not have a great deal of money (even if she does), her attractiveness is really the only leverage she has within a strongly patriarchal society. This was the root of early feminism, as women could not break out of their pre-occupation with their physical appearance, because they were not permitted an education, let alone any social or political standing. The fight was uphill, as those who opposed growing rights for women would often argue the lack of rationality, especially linked to the lack of interest in “important” issues, assuming that even without an education one should be rational enough to act as though one has been given one. Madame Beudet, though a “modern” woman by the early 1920s, is also middle-aged and stifled by expectations. Her yearning for divorce is frustrating because she no longer is equipped with the leverage to gain her a worthy husband. One might scoff at her crisis, but without a husband, a woman could do nothing. In many ways, a woman of her position was of even greater disadvantage of one several classes lower. It’s clear she is unequipped to handle herself, and I can’t help comparing her plight to that of Lily Bart from House of Mirth, who was raised as a woman of society, but once cast out had none of the knowledge or skills to survive in the real world.

Though in the Western world, we are lucky to have moved beyond most of the oppression of the pre-second world war two era, both the stories and the suffering of women then and now seems to take a backseat to the heroics and psychological suffering of men. Cinema especially seems to be dominated by the influence of men, behind and in front of the camera, and even great visionaries such as Germaine Dulac are all but forgotten against their male counterparts. There is both a lack of interest and empathy with stories like Madame Beudet, as they are deemed not quite serious enough for the “film canon”, and films about women are continually forgotten or debased as being trivial. Even for a short film, The Smiling Madame Beudet is ripe with nuance and depth, and feels far more modern that it’s 1923 date suggests. Perhaps I’ve vented far too much of my frustration out in this review, because the film community is not quite as bleak as I paint it, it’s just that sometimes… it’s hard to see beyond the clutter of the mainstream.

Man Ray’s “The Return of Reason” (1923)


Watched Man Ray’s first short, “The Return to Reason”. It’s just 2 minutes, but still worth commenting on… though, frankly, I usually struggle with actually putting together thoughts on experimental cinema. This film is essentially a collection of images and “lights”, that seem to be evoking some sort of child-like impression of the world. It’s not particularly evocative, but the imagery is used and organized in an aesthetically pleasing way. The most beautiful sequence is simply a nude woman bathing in sunshine that has been “shattered” by some kind of curtain. She sways back and forth, and her body, abstracted from her head takes on a sort of Grecian reverance. It’s really this sequence, devoid of any real sexual connotation, played against that of an amusement park that gives the impression of a child’s world view. There is a sort of reverance for the body that’s both curious and filled with awe. I’m not a huge fan of most experimental film actually, mostly because it rarely holds much emotional value, and I feel a lot of it does not offer the same kind of insight into form or theme as in other mediums. This is above middle tier for me in this regard, it just lacks an emotional punch I get from the very “best”, if that makes sense.