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July 13, 2021

The Whirlpool of Fate


La Fille de l'eau
Jean Renoir - 1925
Kino Classics BD Region A

This is not simply a matter of a digital upgrade. The Whirlpool of Fate was previously part of the DVD set of films by Jean Renoir that was issued in 2007. This new edition is from a 4K scan of a more complete version of the film, twelve minutes longer with a running time of 83 minutes. The original French title translates as "The Girl of the Water" which I prefer, as The Whirlpool of Fate leans towards the melodramatic. What is of interest is that in what was his first solo directorial effort, there is the use of technique that one usually does not associate wth Renoir's later films.

The film was intended as a star vehicle for Renoir's wife, Catherine Hessling. Gudule is a young woman who lives on a barge with her father and uncle. It's not specified when the film takes place. The inclusion of an older, unreliable car of the type built around 1910 suggests that the film takes place in a provincial part of France barely touched by the 20th Century. The uncle, Jeff, is introduced as "a brute" who abuses Gudule following the accidental feather of her father. Running away and fending for herself near a small town, she is falsely accused of setting fire to a farmer's haystack. Even when Gudule finds sanctuary working for the small town's prominent family, Uncle Jeff reappears to threaten her happiness. The film was shot on the country property of Paul Cezanne in Marlotte.

An early shot used as part of the introduction of Jeff appears to be simple but is masterful in terms of maintaining the same essential composition within the frame. The barge is filmed almost in full, floating to the right of the frame. Jeff is walking towards the left of the frame, in the opposite direction of the barge. For what seems like like to a minute, Jeff is in virtually the same position within the frame while he is walking, giving the illusion that he is not moving forward while the barge continues its movement. This particular shot is a small hint of Renoir's intentions to experiment with the possibilities of cinema.

When Gudule is caught and accused of setting fire, Renoir does quick cross-cutting among the faces of the accusers. There is also another moment of similar cross-cutting, with some very brief shots. There is also the dream sequence, filmed in a studio with a built in cylinder allowing for characters to defy gravity. Hessling is able to float up and down from a tree, while other ghostly characters run sideways along a wall. Even when Renoir made his own version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", he did not rely on special effects as he had done so here.

Nick Pinkerton's commentary track is sourced from Jean Renoir's autobiography as well as the writings mainly of Raymond Durgnat and Andre Bazin. Discussed is the use of water in Renoir's films, mainly as locations and also referred to directly (The River and indirectly Boudu Saved from Drowning in the titles. Where available, some information is provided about the actors, several of whom were friends or residents of Marlotte. More information is available on actor and screen writer Pierre Lestringuez, who appears here as Jeff. Pinkerton also explains how the special effects sequence was created, pointing out that the superimpositions were all done in camera, prior to the time when such work was created in a photo lab. Additionally, the blu-ray includes a new score by Antonia Coppola for solo piano.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 13, 2021 07:47 AM