Archive for February 8, 2021

Show Me Nothing

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on February 8, 2021 by dcairns

LE HORLA (1966) is a pretty fine short film adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s unique psychic parasite story, probably the first psychic parasite story ever written, unless you know otherwise.

I’ve never seen anything else by Jean-Daniel Pollet but he seems interesting. Great colours in this and Laurent Terzieff is a perfect embodiment of Maupassant’s neurasthenic protagonist. He’s not as eerily skinny in this one so his beauty is more conventional than in later features. Since the original story is in the form of diary entries, Pollet has Terzieff record his impressions into a tape machine, which is a simple but effective way of rendering the thoughts perceptible.

One criticism I would make concerns an early moment where Terzieff’s character is walking in the woods and hears a noise. He turns, but there’s nothing there. The camera stalking him from behind works well, and it then catches his reaction when he turns. But we never see what he’s looking at.

Well, there’s nothing there, so why shoot it?

I would argue that we need to SEE that there’s nothing there. We need to see the nothing. That empty space will be charged with mystery and menace. And when we cut back to Terzieff, his baffled expression with be charged with additional anxiety.

It’s Hitchcock: we feel what the character feels because we SEE what they see and also how they REACT. I’d argue that a really good actor could react to the presence of something in such an evocative way that we barely need to see the something, but no actor is good enough to react to nothing without us benefitting from seeing the nothing.

Weak direction is over-literal, shows us just the actors talking. Strong direction shows us what is dramatic and meaningful, and the performances become more effective when they’re only about 70% of what we see.

Pollet does actually show us lots of unpeopled scenes in this film, so I take my hat off to his empty rowboat.