Les Filles de Feu

“Scènes de la vie parallèle…” 

My last couple of entries were pretty silly, maybe because I just saw Jacques Rivette’s DUELLE (UNE QUARANTAINE) and my brain fell off. There’s no way I’m going to formulate any coherent thoughts about this film for some time, and coherent thoughts probably couldn’t do justice to it anyway, so here are some INCOHERENT ones:

The goddesses of the sun and moon compete to obtain The Fairy Godmother, a magic gem, in modern Paris.

deux/elles

The music is provided by a pianist improvising along with the action. That may be how Neil Young scored DEAD MAN, but he wasn’t visible IN the film, doing it. Here, Jean Wiener the old chap at the ivories, is clearly visible in the background of shots, tinkling away in bars, dance halls and hotel rooms. I was hoping he’d turn up in the aquarium too, but I guess that was ruled too obviously weird.

Lots of creaking in this film! As the dolly trundles over wooden floors, a cacophony of straining wood announces its presence. Since the film has a very live soundtrack, there was obviously no way to eliminate these extraneous sounds, so they kind of make a mild virtue of them. The camera movements, couples with the moves of the actors, are extremely elegant and elaborate, and the symphony of sounds that accompany them all can be seen as atmosphere.

duelle to the death

Awesome costumes all round. The romance of 1976, with added ‘thirties vibe, plus MASSIVE sunglasses; veils; many hats; a silver-tipped cane and a magic gemstone activated by drops of blood…

Jean Babilée is an amazing physical presence, not just when he does his acrobatic feats, but just in his general movements, which are all like dance, even when maybe he’s just moving around so you can’t see how short he is next to the women.

“I love the artist’s use of the colour blue,” – Ryan O’Neal in BARRY LYNDON.

Jean Wiener’s daughter, Elizabeth, turns up briefly. I only know her from Clouzot’s pop-art psychodrama LA PRISONIERRE, which deserves to be more widely seen. A gripping tale of kinky sexual shenanigans among the kinetic art set.

Both DUELLE and LA PRISONIERRE are available only from France, without English subtitles. Being linguistically handicapped, I experienced both films thanks to live translation from the multilingual Mr. David Wingrove, who acted as what the Japanese might call a Benshi, or film describer. He was constantly wondering if DUELLE’s dialogue seemed incoherent because of the wine he’d drunk, or because it really did make very little conventional sense. By the end he was assured of the latter.

DW didn’t have time to translate the accompanying mini-documentary, but I noticed they showed a DUELLE poster in between images from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and MULHOLLAND DRIVE, which seemed almost right…

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4 Responses to “Les Filles de Feu”

  1. Until I saw the complete “Out One” this year, “Duelle” has been my very favorite Rivette. You can find articles I’ve written about it and “Noroit” (it’s Evil Twin) at the Rivette site, and an article about “Duelle” alone at “Sense of Cinema.” Among other things it has the most unique musical score in the history of the cinema.

  2. Yes, the score is a joy, not only musically (although it’s superb as accompaniment) but also by virtue of Wiener being physically present in the scenes. The distinction between diegetic and non-diegetic music is EXPLODED!

  3. Great articles, David E! I knew I’d have to revisit the film, especially after David W translates NOROIT for me, and now I have some more thoughts to bear in mind when I do so.

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