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The Starfish (1928)

L'étoile de mer (original title)
Two people stand on a road, out of focus. Seen distorted through a glass, they retire upstairs to a bedroom where she undresses. He says, "Adieu." Images: the beautiful girl, a starfish in ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview:
Kiki of Montparnasse ...
Une femme (as Alice [Kiki] Prin)
André de la Rivière ...
Un homme
Robert Desnos ...
Un autre homme
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Storyline

Two people stand on a road, out of focus. Seen distorted through a glass, they retire upstairs to a bedroom where she undresses. He says, "Adieu." Images: the beautiful girl, a starfish in a jar, city scenes, newspapers, tugboats. More images: starfish, the girl. "How beautiful she is." Repeatedly. He advances up the stair, knife in hand, starfish on the step. Three people stand on a road, out of focus. "How beautiful she was." "How beautiful she is." "Beautiful." Written by David Carless

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20 November 1999 (Greece)  »

Also Known As:

Estrela do Mar  »

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1.33 : 1
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Referenced in Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinémathèque (2004) See more »

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eerily pleasant and beguiling, with a soft eroticism and reverie for the sea
10 May 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

For most of The Starfish, one of the experimental/surrealist films from the painter Man Ray, we see everything through a kind of gauze or fuzzy filter over the camera. It has the sort of appearance that one might have looking through one of those glasses in a Church. Perhaps it's meant to evoke the religious, 'through a glass darkly' sort of thing, only this isn't dark so much as warped to make things obscured and out of focus and reach.

What we see in the first moments is a man and woman walking together, going up to a room, and we can make out a woman disrobing (maybe not all the way, but close to it), and the man leaves her in bed. Then a flow of images come forward - not quick at all, but in the wave that comes with a hallucination under a psychedelic or in that weird wave right before you go to sleep, if not outright dreams: a starfish, close-up, in slow-motion; twelve different shots of starfish and starfishes in glasses (four across, three up); and the woman in bed or the man walking alone.

What does all this mean? Should it matter to decipher it? At the time this film was one of many in the wave of surrealists coming forward - it was either this or another of Ray's films that screened with Bunuel's debut Un chien Andalou in 1929 - and in here, there's nothing THAT scandalous about it for today. It might have been for the period though: just the thought of a woman disrobing, or just showing her legs, as she does, albeit out of focus (and we can see when the camera goes in focus part of her leg and foot) was unthinkable for a prudish, mass collective audience. And if Man Ray was Catholic, as several of the surrealists and dadaists like Dali and Bunuel were, that was part of the point, to provoke himself as much as the audience around him with these startling images. There may also be violence invoked here as well, with a woman stalking up stairs with a knife.

Some inter-titles come up from time to time here, and the most intriguing and poetic come at the start: "Women's teeth are objects so charming... that one ought to see them only in a dream or in the instant of love." Could this be a clue as to what the film is "about" if anything? Or is it all part of the piece itself, leading a viewer through a stream of images and contrasts - think the soft flesh of a woman's skin with the scaly outside of a starfish itself - and about what a woman's presence means in general? Teeth being invoked is also curious and unsettling - why only in love or a dream? Perhaps for Man Ray, teeth are what the eyeball was to Bunuel.

Or, again, as in a dream, everything means something else to that person. Starfish isn't as direct or confrontational as Bunuel & Dali's dreamscapes, but it does what it should by bringing the audience along through images that, at that time and rarely since, no one has seen quite like before. Visualizing such an inner-sanctum as the subconscious is one of those things cinema does well, and Man Ray shows it.


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