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One of Louis Feuillade’s last productions, PIERROT, PIERRETTE (1924) is a feature (just over an hour) that plays somehow like a short, with a tone Dickensian and Chaplinesque. When aging former ringmaster grandpa gets taken into an old folks’ home, Pierrot and Pierrette go on the lam: gramps encourages this, telling them to have adventures. The first adventure, it turns out, is starvation.
Pierrotte is a teenage René Poyen, the Liquorice Kid from JUDEX, elongated but still very recognizable. He’s adjusted his acting style to suit the twenties — he’s no longer so aware of the audience, doesn’t act things out for our benefit along. But he’s still one of nature’s aristocrats, even performing in a monocle. His little sister is played by an adorable and very natural kid called Bouboule, another Feuillade discovery.
Two surprisingly unpleasant bits of slapstick: in one scene, Bouboule intervenes in a fight between two big adults and gets tossed around like a rag doll — she is literally replaced by a doll to allow this, but Feuillade sets his camera back at a distance so it’s horrifyingly convincing. Poor Bouboule gets used as a bludgeon, then chucked ten feet through the air, magically turning back into a real girl on impact with terra firma. Later, a burglar gets a pitchfork in the throat, also played for laugh. He doesn’t seem to be suffering, or not as much as you’d expect.
Stealing from the best, Feuillade wraps his story up with an Oliver Twist housebreaking followed by somewhat unmotivated happy ending. It’s all quite cute.
I was intrigued to see whether Feuillade was moving with the times. Yes and no. He cuts a lot more within scenes than he did in 1916, when his approach was somewhat tableau-based. He even does regular shot-reverse-shot cutting. But he doesn’t edge the camera round for over-the-shoulders. Instead he creates a tableau with the actors facing front and then fragments it into closeups. This was perhaps slightly old-fashioned for 1923, but not severely outdated.