WHIRLPOOL OF FATE (France / 1925)
In 2005, Whirlpool of Fate (La Fille de l'eau) -- Jean Renoirs first solo directorial effort (besides being involved as a producer, actor and screenwriter in the earlier Une vie sans joie , Renoir also reportedly "interfered" with director Albert Dieudonn) -- was "restored by the French Film Library and Canal Studio from a 35mm copy on safety base film. This constituent established by Henri Langlois, had English subtitles; the original French subtitles could not be recovered. Therefore, the restoration consisted of translating and adapting the English text in order to create new subtitles, and then digitizing the copy to produce the image." (Rather ironic -- and, Im sure, frustrating for some Renoirphiles -- because, until recently, the DVD editions of the film only featured French intertitles.)
Foretellingly so, as far as one of the key motifs of the masters oeuvre is considered, Whirlpool of Fate begins with the shot of a body of water -- a canal, in which we witness a ferry gradually moving towards us. After introducing the protagonist, Gudule (Catherine Hessling, Renoirs wife and collaborator until 1930), the film takes us atop the vessel where we find Gudules father and her boorish uncle (Pierre Lestringuez, who wrote the screenplays for a number of Renoirs early films). It isnt long that the now-orphaned Gudule is seen on the run after her foolishly extravagant uncle tries to take advantage of her. Consisting of more sudden twists than a Mexican telenovela, the poor young girl's dramatic life reaches a nadir one rainy evening in the forest, but shes rescued by the well-meaning, and long-admiring, son of a local landlord. Will Gudule now live happily ever after?
Whirlpool of Fate contains a couple of key instances in which Renoirs early experimental tendencies come to fruition. One is the aforementioned attempted rape scene where the image of the highly intoxicated uncle is distorted via a variety of negative-related effects; and the illusory result is heightened and punctuated by the use of rapid montage. Even more important is the metaphysical, and surreal, dream sequence (which is similar to that of Renoirs latter The Little Match Girl ). Here, the filmmaker practically unleashes all the available components of his formal and stylistic apparatus: variable frame rates, superimposition, multiple exposures, acute angles, intense contrasts of light, etc.
Having said that, and while Renoir also manages to coax some poetry out of the thoroughly natural settings, this 72-minute silent -- considerably longer than Match Girl and the subversively experimental (or experimentally subversive) Charleston Parade (1927), but shorter than Nana (1926), arguably the best of Renoir's silents -- isn't as accomplished as some of the other films of the time-period.