Thursday, June 21, 2007

La Fille de l'eau

1925, France, directed by Jean Renoir

Jean Renoir's first film as a solo director immediately introduces one of the director's recurrent tropes, that of a flowing river. While proximity to that river is critical to the development of the film's plot, Renoir's great preoccupations are present only in embryonic form, however, as the film moves somewhat jerkily from one event to the next, sometimes across gaps of logic (or at least credible motivation). The tone, too, is at times uncertain, veering from high melodrama to outright slapstick, at times in the same breath (as in the sequence where a hot-headed young farmer threatens a violent attack, then promptly falls into a tub of water; the dunking in no way cools his ardour, as might have been expected in a more comic register).

Nonetheless, even where Renoir is clearly finding his feet, he displays great creativity with his staging, such as in the remarkable scenes where his heroine (played by Catherine Hessling, Renoir's then-wife) is entrapped first in the bunk of her uncle's barge, and later in a gypsy wagon threatened by fire; both scenes are genuinely suspenseful, with striking placement of the actors in the former sequence. There is also an extended dream sequence that makes creative use of a variety of special effect ideas, whether reversing the film or playing with scale; in the middle of the sequence, a title card with the single word "Délire" appears, which must have been reassuring to any cinema patrons who happened into the theatre during that particular portion of the film.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States