Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jean Renoir - Whirlpool of Fate

I took advantage recently of a Barnes and Noble sale on art films, and picked up a boxed set of Jean Renoir. The first one I've watched is his 1925 silent film, Whirlpool of Fate (English title). The film was interesting on a few levels. One was the view of contemporary French life. Horsedrawn barges cross the countryside, and the rich play with motorcars. The second level wsa the mechanics of the film-making. Renoir used many storytelling techniques, and there is a delightful special effects sequence in the middle of the film.

By modern standards, the final resolution might not seem very cathartic. The foul uncle of the damsel in distress is knocked into the river and swept off shaking his fist, and said damsel is taken along on a trip to Algeria by the family of her wealthy benefactors. But has she actually married the handsome young scion? To me it is unclear. Perhaps to contemporary audiences, her change of dress, and riding with the family in their carriage are sufficient clues that she is now a part of the family by marriage. To me, the fact that the film skips any explicit symbols of marriage, even a swinging church bell, leaves it ambiguous whether love has successfully bridged class differences.

While I greatly enjoyed the special effects sequence, for me the greatest enjoyment in the first few seconds of the film after the titles. Leaves flashing on the trees just out of sych with the film rate create this impressionistic shimmer on the screen that immediately transported me to another place and time, not only of story, but of story-telling.

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