This smart film uses cinema as a therapeutic resource helping to cure one of the key characters of her mania and revealing something of the power the new medium was recognised as having. The woman gazes intensely at the screen as the events that traumatized her are replayed almost as life… in shock she staggers towards the screen and looks around at the back to see if it’s real: how can these images be?
I have had a very boyish fascination with pre-war films that would demonstrate pre-Birth of a Nation innovation but it’s impossible and it’s pointless – largely – the true test is whether or not a film is entertaining. Inevitably this is more likely to be those films whose production values are more aligned to modern tastes but beyond a certain point films begin to resonate as entertainment rather than academic studies… although there are many ways to enjoy watching a film.
|Émile Keppens and Suzanne Grandais|
Perret uses some great locations, not least the titular cliffs, all of which are captured very well by cinematographer Georges Specht as well as evocative Bauer-esque sets from Robert-Jules Garnier; rich in detail and depth of focus. There are no short cuts on the budget and there are dozens of different shots in the film which is remarkably well-preserved.
Events begin as the last will and testament of the Marquis de Kéranic are read out to his expectant cousin, Comte Fernand de Kéranic (Léonce Perret no less!) and young niece Suzanne de Lormel (Suzanne Grandais). It’s the usual troublesome arrangement that can lead to trouble: Suzanne must make it to 18 without going mad or otherwise blotting her copybook or else she will lose all of the inheritance to her other uncle and tutor the Comte.
Now, this is asking for trouble but the Comte seems easy-going enough, surely nothing can disturb his peaceful stewardship of his young ward’s coming of age? Well… turns out the Comte has a gambling problem and is deep in debt. Perret reveals his predicament with the unfolding of a letter rather than through intertitles, the film takes the time to reveal its story and has a well-paced narrative that might well not have been tolerated in say the United States.
|Léonce Perret and Suzanne Grandais|
She runs off leaving her satchel which the Comte opens to find love letters from her beau, Le Capitaine Jean d'Erquy (Max Dhartigny)… now he knows everything and begins to plot… alone in his darkly-lit study.
But next we see the Comte apologising to Suzanne and trying to make good but then we see him slip a sleeping draught into her drink before the two go for a walk down to the remote cliffs. Suzanne duly feints just in time for another part of the Comte’s plan comes into play. He has written to the Captain pretending to be Suzanne and has organised for them to meet at the rocks… as the soldier’s boat nears the Comte hides in the rocks with a loaded shot gun and lets off a smoke signal to attract the young man.
When he’s close enough the Comte fires two shots and Jean falls to the ground. Presuming him dead the Comte leaves them both to the mercy of the incoming tide… killing two lovebirds with one foul stone.
|Lost at sea without a paddle...|
Thinking himself safe from any comeback, the Comte has Suzanne declared mentally unfit and proceeds to reap the benefit of the clause in his brother’s will that means he is the sole heir in such an event. All of his financial problems look at an end…
And yet… Suzanne’s maid writes to the Captain when he has recovered and suggests they contact one Professeur Williams (Émile Keppens) a man who has a reputation for solving the seemingly un-solvable psychiatric cases through revolutionary use of cinematic techniques!
|Avoiding the use of intertitles|
Clearly the modern mind may well find few surprises but imagine the impact this would have had at the time when the arts of psychoanalysis and cinematography were still new and developing apace.
|Re-creating the crime!|
I watched the Kino DVD which is part of their excellent Gaumont Treasures collection and comes complete with a super new score from Philippe Dubosson. If you haven’t already got it, it’s available direct from Kino Lorber or from the creative accountants at Amazon.