Sometimes the manners of a hundred years just drop away and you simply see.
This film plays with your expectations and the outcome we anticipate is quite different from the one we get - such is our (my) complacency and Germaine Dulac’s genius. The director took Denys Amiel’s play of a marriage being slowly strangulated by a careless male becalmed by middle age routine and turned it into a meditation on woman’s capacity for quiet desperation: one almost without ending… It would be funnier if it didn't feel quite so true.
|Hanging on... desperate|
There’s a vase of flowers on the central table in their drawing room. Madame positions it right of centre near the edge whilst Monsieur always moves it to the obvious centre. This is all things in their marriage which has been panel-beaten into rigid conformity by a husband (Alexandre Arquillière) who actively seeks out only more of the same ignoring the impact of diminishing returns by forcing himself to laugh louder.
|Go ahead punk, make my day...|
The friends, Monsieur (Jean d'Yd) and Madame Labas (Madeleine Guitty) are clearly as much in sympathy as her husband and the latter’s angled disregard says all you need to know about her view of Madame Beudet’s fashions.
The long suffering Madame B is at home when her husband initially returns and begins the process of setting his house in order. He sits at his commanding desk ordering the servants around and taking care of important matters whilst his wife tries to read a book.
She had been playing Debussy and was in a world of pastoral escape, with a gentle breeze accentuating the slivers of sunlight on the long grass near some imagined pool. Dulac compares the motion of her hands on the piano with her husband’s graceless shuffling of business correspondence.
She reads a magazine and imagines a hunky tennis player running to her relief and yet thoughts of her husband crash in on the reverie and fragile invention is rudely dissipated…
He’s a menace and in her desperation she takes the bullets from the left-hand drawer and loads them into the gun in the right-hand drawer – his fail-safe method of ensuring the gun is never loaded has been removed and the next time he pulls the trigger the joke will be on him.
Yet Madame B is no killer and tries very hard to empty the gun… only to be thwarted by too many people popping up in the wrong place. Husband duly arrives home ready to begin his boorish routines… it could be the death of him but there's a narrow escape.
In many such plays a dramatic incident serves to bring the wayward couple back together again but not here where his complete misunderstanding of what has just happened only makes matters worse. She looks pleadingly to the Heavens – possibly with murder on her mind and certainly with the knowledge that she is trapped – damned as sure as any caged bird to a long and tedious demise.
The film is available as part of an ARTE DVD Germaine Dulac (1922-1928) - Drei Filme der französischen Stummfilm-Pionierin and can also be found on YouTube complete with a dreamily-anxious score from Manfred Knaak and played by the Kontraste Ensemble.