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Yes, this is a one shot film that lasts less than a minute; but the beauty in the film is the result of the composition. Three men in a large rowboat set out to sea as the choppy water rocks the boat and makes beautifully defined ripples in the shallows near us. A rock quay juts out into the water from some out-of-site location along the shoreline to our right. The several women and the child on the end of the quay are totally isolated from us and we do not know their relationship to the men in the boat. It is the closest thing you will see to a black-and-white painting in motion.
I watched this film on a DVD that was rammed with short films from the
period. I didn't watch all of them as the main problem with these type
of things that their value is more in their historical novelty value
rather than entertainment. So to watch them you do need to be put in
the correct context so that you can keep this in mind and not watch it
with modern eyes. With the Primitives & Pioneers DVD collection though
you get nothing to help you out, literally the films are played one
after the other (the main menu option is "play all") for several hours.
With this it is hard to understand their relevance and as an
educational tool it falls down as it leaves the viewer to fend for
themselves, which I'm sure is fine for some viewers but certainly not
the majority. What it means is that the DVD saves you searching the web
for the films individually by putting them all in one place but
that's about it.
At once this film is interesting but yet frustrating in seeing things being worked on that are now commonplace. The interesting aspect is the framing of the shot, which is reminiscent of a painting in the way it sets the foreground (the jetty) and a background (the sloping hill on the horizon). However as a film it has the boat moving through one towards the other, which is an interesting development that provides plenty to look at. The women on the pier are worth watching as is the boat, so the viewer is held by both.
However it was here that the film annoyed me by just "ending". I had expected the planned film to see the boat move out of shot around the jetty, which would be a logical end, leaving the viewer wit only the static fore and back grounds to contemplate. It did annoy that the film just stopped instead of ending. That said though, it is yet again interesting to watch as part of Lumière's development.
This is a pleasing little feature from the earliest years of cinema,
with a nicely planned camera field that catches action both in and out
of the water. The motion of the waves, and to a lesser extent the
strokes of the oarsmen, result in action that is lyrical, almost
As with so many of the pioneering Lumière features, it displays a very nice choice of material, whether by careful design, by a good intuitive feel. or by a combination of both. The motion of the boat on the water is balanced very nicely by the movements of the small group of women and children at the water's edge. As, again, with a good number of these very early features, it bears watching a couple of times. The boat is what grabs all of the attention at first, but the other half of the scene is also worth noticing.
The artistic-looking setting would have made a worthwhile subject for one of the great French Impressionist painters of the era. It is also the kind of nicely photographed little scene that would not have seemed out of place if it were used as footage in the middle of a feature made in a much later era, since it holds up very well. The very brief footage also leaves you with a little curiosity, since it has shown you a small, simple, but far from dull piece of the lives of these persons. It accomplishes its aim, and is pleasing to watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We see a boat that includes three men. Two of them are rowing with all their force, while another just sits there and maybe instructs them. It's a rough day at the sea and they have to give it their everything to move forward. While they're moving further and further away from the port, we see several people still standing there at the background at the post and looking at those in the boat. One of them is a well-dressed woman, possibly the wife from one of those leaving. In any case, it's one of the less interesting Lumière short films. It's rather long though for that time, over 48 seconds, but it almost begins to drag a little towards the end. Not really recommended. Even silent film enthusiasts can find much better choices than this one.
this is possibly the most beautiful of the early Lumiere shorts. A boat
rows from the front of the screen away from the audience to the back, while
to the right, women wait on the port. The camera, as usual, does not move,
but the play of sunlight on the waves are gorgeous, and the rippling
movement is so vibrant, especially within such a static frame, that it
like one is watching an actual scene behind glass.
As with 'Demolition d'un mur', the real frisson of the film comes from the unexpected. The scene proceeds as expected, the boat moving steadily along. But, just as it turns, a stronger wave lunges, and almost capsizes the boat. Before we discover what will happen, the reel, and the film, ends. These early films made no precautions for the necessity of extra reels.
But the effect is quite shocking. The unexpected violence is unsettling enough, but with the film over, and loose ends nowhere near being tied up - indeed, just initiated a narrative, in the dying seconds - the audience is left agonising in the dark. What happened next? Inadvertently, the audience is required to imagine for itself, imagine what's not capable of being represented by the cinema, something the Hollywood generic system to come will stamp out. With its daring use of ellipsis, is this the first art-film, the first 'Cat People'?
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