Thursday, November 19, 2009

Le Golem

1936, France/Czechoslovakia, directed by Julien Duvivier

David Cairns examined Duvivier's 1935 feature Golgotha at his invaluable blog Shadowplay, and suggested that the director flings himself "headlong" into the Biblical movie trap, that is, the problem of characterising people in convincing fashion when we're so separated from them in time and space. Although the distance to the events of Le Golem isn't quite as profound, I couldn't help feeling that Duvivier hadn't quite extricated himself from the previous year's trap: as striking as the film is at times, its so lavish with atmosphere and half-digested mythology that there's very little sense of characterisation. The sets are frequently remarkable - the retorts and flames of a legion of alchemists, the crannies of the Jewish ghetto, the interior of an archetypal country inn - but the actors are trapped within the broadest of strokes, compelled toward melodrama and rarely able to articulate more subtle emotional shades (Harry Baur, as the Emperor Rudolf II, descends into a madness that seems occasionally and unfortunately comical). Similarly, while Duvivier uses his camera and framing in the service of the inner lives of his characters in other films here the camera's constant movement reinforces the sense of a whirlwind of events, but to ultimately overblown effect.

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