Friday, October 02, 2009

the defect (feuillade, 1911)

"…where loose women congregate…". A prequel to Custody?
Once again, theatrical choreography with an architecturally- preoccupied camera position.  I feel confident that this is one of the director’s defining features.  However, I'm 4-5 minutes in and the film is not yet great and the relentless musical refrain (not Feuillade's fault) is driving me bananas.  And then a HALF DOZEN waitresses (profanely recalling Feuillade's 1909 Spring) just MATERIALIZE to clean a table that would take (and has) one waitress less than 9 seconds to make new and pine-smelling for the next patron.  The kind of grand gesture that Feuillade slips under our noses from time to time.
Transition: gorgeous deep-focus photography, train passes foreground (bird's-eye with slightly canted angle; sunlit bay in far, depressed background).
I respect contemporary long-take directors, think static-cam maneuvers challenging enough that even mild success earns at least a grudging respect.  Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor employed long takes that worked the foreground and background against each other and built gargantuan visual tapestries.  Usually to indicate one joke.  Feuillade's static camera juggles multiple planes and multiple timing cues to further the narrative.  As alluded earlier, Feuillade's crowd control is the impulse while his use of architecture is the correction.  Closer to Welles, in this way.
In this odd film, what appears to be a gaggle of moralizing harpies descending upon the heroine evaporates to reveal the heroine's apparent benefactor.  (But we are not sure of that, either; a mindbending manipulation of expectations. Yet Feuillade continues to promise NOTHING: promises neither cathartic she's-a-saint fist-pumping nor snarky ha-ha-that's- what-you-get-for-expecting-happiness tragedy; what is on the agenda, with Feuillade creating set-/frame-centric backgrounds and allowing the melodrama to run its course?  The director coaches his actors to express rather than telegraph, so each gesture seems to be taking place in the present, and events seem to end before they begin.
Transition:  as the "loose woman"'s patron expires, his entourage suggests jealousy and black-clothed contempt but appearances deceive as their demonstration of easygoing acceptance resembles that of a Farrelly brothers movie.  How long can this idyll last?  The title after all is DEFECT.
To be continued.  At 41 minutes, The Defect is quite long in comparison to almost all of Feuillade’s non-serial work.  Will resume with a Part 2.

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