Sunday, September 23, 2012

Germaine Dulac

La Coquille et le Clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman), 1928 Germaine Dulac, (31 min)

There is a decorated officer at the door, walks out and then a cut to just his lower half walking across the frame --- all in slow motion. It is as though watching a dream when even if you are in a hurry, you cannot move any faster than you are going. He confronts the Clergyman who has been repeatedly filling beakers using a giant shell and then dropping them into a growing pile of shattered glass --- not one fluid scene, but shown as a series of cuts. The shaking/warping of the frame is very disorienting and ends with the Clergyman looking afraid; his state of mind(?). I found the jump in space with the crawling sequence, ending with him running, interesting and it really showed is desperation. The longer take of just his eyes reveals his longing for or need for something, but the viewer does not know, yet. The slow motion fight scenes seems to suggest this is the Clergyman's desire to hurt the officer to get his lover/wife, presumably, and hurt the other Clergyman, presumably his "boss", to throw away his vows (to "get the woman"). Sometimes I feel as though the Clergyman sees one reality and reacting to it, but everyone else is in a different reality.

The whole film seems to be a surrealist dream of longing and wanting to change one's situation.


  1. Jess,
    Agreed, the overall affect for me was of a surreal/expressionistic experience. I watched it at least three times -the first viewing I simply soaked in the bizarre transitions, uncanny narrative, and wonderful effects-namely the slow motion scenes, distortion sequences (of woman in mirror), the use of miniatures, vantage shots (above/below cleric), costuming metamorphoses (clerics train, general with cassock,etc.).
    I kept noticing a sense of coreography in the chase sequences thru the wooded landscape in particular. I was also picking up a pronounced alchemical theme-but this may have been my own sensibilities/interests clouding the intent. I really liked the scoring though I know it wasnt original.
    I think I could watch this another ten times & still miss some enticing details.

  2. Jess,
    Agreed, the film appeared to be a surreal/expressionistic experience overall. I watched it several times-the first viewing I simply let its lucid narrative and bizzarre effects just wash over me. I was particularly drawn to the slow motion sequences, distortions of womans face in mirror, costume transformations (clerics robe, general's cassock), line drawn visual effects (face of general etc), use of miniatures, suspension and rotation of the 'general' (no idea of rank-just my guess), multiple vantage shots (cleric from above & below), etc. I kept picking up a sense of coreography-especially in the chase scenes thru the wooded landscape. I also was reading a distinct alchemical layering on the narrative but this could just be my own sensibilities gone awry. I could easily watch this another ten times and probably miss other beautifully nuanced details-like the odd upper shot of the 'tennis couple' (my term) sequence.
    Really enjoyed the soundtrack though I know it was not original-it maintained the exhausting pursuit pacing & seemed to me to be very fitting.

  3. Jess, I agree his longing eyes are creepy. Its as if he'll do anything to get what he desires. Even if it means he has to throw away his vow as a clergyman, as you have pointed out.