Archive for Catherine Hessling

The Sunday Intertitle: A Right Nana

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on June 2, 2019 by dcairns

Renoir’s wife irl, Catherine Hessling is introduced as the title character of NANA (1926). Titles are by “Mme Le Blond Zola,” apparently.

This is the most impressive NANA I’ve seen, more engaging than the Dorothy Arzner/Anna Sten, that’s for damn sure. (Hollywood and Goldwyn robbed Anna of the considerable appeal she exuded in, say, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, so totally that it’s quite hard to persuade classic Hollywood fans to even try her earlier work. Makes you appreciate the stubbornness with which Ingrid Bergman resisted being made over.)

CH indulges in some full-on booty shaking in her first scene, giving a huge laugh to the minor character who declares, moments later, “That woman is the epitome of elegance!”

This little vignette shows Renoir’s skill, I think: the still, silent humiliation of the neglected wife, contrasted with the fatuous enthusiasm of her male companion as they watch the show from a box. The wife will take the opera glasses from her idiot hubby, not to look herself, just to limit his oafish leering, and then she has to physically prevent him from throwing the flowers which he belatedly remembers are his gift to her.

What’s most typical of Renoir here is, I think, the co-existence of tragedy and comedy in the same frame, equally weighted, each given their due, resulting in a weird harmony that’s lifelike and not in the least jarring.

The Sunday Intertitle: Strike a Light

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2010 by dcairns

It would be so good to become warm again from the light of a match.

The first Renoir short film I saw, SUR UN AIR DE CHARLESTON (1927), was memorably odd, mingling bizarre and very non-modern comedy (an African character is a blackface actor who dances the Charleston — because black people like jazz) with science fiction — a genre Renoir would not revisit until LE DEJEUNER SUR L’HERBE, with its talk of artificial insemination and “the European presidency” in 1959. CHARLESTON is really peculiar, brilliantly danced, and not exactly offensive, since it’s done with such naivety and affection.

A year later, with another feature film under his belt, Renoir adapted a Hans Andersen story, The Little Match Girl, as LA PETITE MARCHANDE D’ALLUMETTES, and made a masterpiece. While neither of these shorts necessarily evokes the Renoir we get to know later, both show stylistic curiosity of an insatiable kind, a love of performance, and a devotion to crafting beautiful filmic objects, all of which certainly inform the mature JR. This one also seems to enter Andersen’s sentimental concern with the problems of poverty via Chaplin, which seems altogether appropriate and proves extremely effective. And did I mention the beauty of it?

The movie stars Renoir’s wife, and his father’s model, Catherine Hessling, who is unsubtle in just about every way, particularly her makeup, but succeeds because the whole film is built around her excesses. And when the girl, dying in the snow, hallucinates being shrunk down to interact with the dolls in a toyshop, Hessling’s abilities as a dancer really lift the fantasy.

Here’s a bit in motion:

It’s altogether an extraordinary work. Renoir is experimenting, he’s telling a time-honoured story, and the balance of the two things is perfect. Plus a moment where a stray hair from the little match girl’s head gets caught on Death’s tunic, and Death plucks it loose and lets go and the hair becomes entangled on a wooden cross — this seems to be parodied in the last image of Bunuel’s L’AGE D’OR. in fact, both Renoir and Bunuel dissolve from falling objects (petals and feathers) to falling snow, making this film a pretty major influence on Bunuel’s, even though the two films’ purposes could not be more different.