Friday, July 07, 2017

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017: By Candlelight, James Whale, 1933

At the same time true to its stage play source and completely cinematic, especially in its use of doors as sluices controlling both visual spectacle and erotic energy. The master / servant dynamic is very funny, especially because of Paul Lukas's natural air of superiority towards his boss, but like the magnificent The Kiss Before the Mirror, this is ultimately all about learning / unlearning the automatisms of romance. Although this time around it's set in a much lighter mood.

The key to the film (and to Whale's authorship) might be the only scene not set in enclosed space, though:  a short sequence at a country fair. While I still don't really know what to make of these strange images, one thing is clear: no one could mistake them for "good honest people having fun". Instead (and completely unrelated to the plot) they have a ritualistic feel about them. The most important element of Whale's fair are clearly the masks. And the reason for the strangeness of the scene might be that the usual links between mask and identity do not apply. The people neither wear masks to hide their (real) identity, nor to reveale their (true) self. Rather, masking is a state of being in its own right, a sign of pure difference, free from all (bodily, social, sexual) restraints.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017: Les amours de minuit, Augusto Genina, Marc Allegret, 1931

Two escaped men meet on a train. One - young, nervous, curious - escaped from his boring day job, the other - lean, lanky, sleazy - from a penal colony.  The train would bring the young guy directly to the harbour and to his ship bound  for South America. The other one persuades him to dismount one stop earlier by promising him a night in town with lots of erotic attractions. For the young man, the train is transformed from a mere means of transportation into a machine that grants worlds, options, adventures. A sense of anarchic, but also modernist freedom which for me is strongly associated with early sound cinema, right now my favorite period in film history - by far.

The storyline might be rather straightforward, but the film isn't really interested in plot mechanics. Every scene is self-sufficent, every place a whole world in itself. Especially the nightclub: Several dance routines are filmed in their entirety, the buzz of the place is, for the most part, much more important than the conspiracy the young man might be caught in. A beautiful tracking shot floating alongside the bar counter: in the first row, men and a few women eating sanwiches, drinking beer; but there's a second row, comprised almost exclusively by women trying to snatch a quick bite or a drink for free.

Another great moment: the other guy, the bad, lanky one, and his mistress meeting in a revolving door. Her slight hesitation in joining him in the inside - her realizing that instead of meeting him she could just succumb to the dynamics of the door, rotate with it and get thrown out into the world.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017: Lac aux dames, Marc Allegret, 1934

A Ritrovato moment to stay with me for a long time, probably: Simone Simon and Jean-Pierre Aumont rolling around in a barn, bedded on a pile of grain, joined in a flowing movement of not-quite-lovemaking, which somehow is even more erotic than actual sex. All scenes with Simon's Puck and Aumont's Eric in the barn (a magic fairytale wonderland which might also be a fishing lodge) are absolutely marvellous, elevating an already freewheeling, joyfully frivolous youth melodrama into pure cine-ecstasy.

Lac aux dames is a film of unpretentious, un-selfconscious, but at the same time completely unhinged extravagance. Aumont - who's a swimming teacher working at a strange, almost sci-fi-like public bath - isn't caught between, but both blessed and marked by three women: Or maybe it's one woman split in three, into the imaginary (Simon), the symbolic (Rosin Derean), and the real (Illa Meery). But that's just one among several possible layers, and Aumont himself is more spirit than human most of the time in this.