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The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928)

La coquille et le clergyman (original title)
Obsessed with a general's woman, a clergyman has strange visions of death and lust, struggling against his own eroticism.

Director:

Germaine Dulac

Writer:

Antonin Artaud
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Cast

Credited cast:
Alex Allin Alex Allin ... Le clergyman
Genica Athanasiou Genica Athanasiou ... La femme du général
Lucien Bataille Lucien Bataille ... Le général
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Storyline

Obsessed with a general's woman, a clergyman has strange visions of death and lust, struggling against his own eroticism.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Short

Parents Guide:

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Details

Country:

France

Release Date:

16 February 1933 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

A kagyló és a lelkész See more »

Filming Locations:

Paris, France

Company Credits

Production Co:

Délia Film See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

(restored)

Sound Mix:

Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

At the film's premier, writer Antonin Artaud, who was obviously not pleased by what director Germaine Dulac did to his screenplay, shouted at the screen, calling her a cow. See more »

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User Reviews

 
eerie, troubling, unforgettable and maybe lurid - in the best ways
7 May 2015 | by Quinoa1984See all my reviews

At first there seems to be some kind of science experiment. A potion is put from a vial into a pan by what looks to be a clergyman (?) and then a man in a General's uniform uses a sword to chop it down. The camera makes things look woozy, the frame and composition becoming warped and undone, like the feeling of going under or being drunk. We follow the Clergyman as he runs down a street (on his knees?) and then walks down a hall. There's also a woman, and the General is still there, but then... there's visions. He goes to another place mentally, perhaps, seeing a ship, water, waves, all sort of images that seem connected but disconnected at the same time. There's a room full of maids sweeping, then lined in formation. And then that 'Seashell' of the title - revealing (what else) boobs.

So much went into this film, the Seashell and the Clergyman, directed by Germain Dulac and written by one of the real-deal surrealists (and actor) Antonin Artuad, that I'm sure I could watch this five more times - and would want to - and get a different take on it each time. This preceded Un chien Andalou by a year, and yet I feel like these filmmakers and Bunuel/Dali were part of the same movement; whether Bunuel and Dali saw this film before they made their excursion is arguable, and I'd be curious to find out for sure (certainly the one moment where I went "Oh!" was when the clergyman reveals the seashell for the breasts - a similar shot happens in Andalou).

Yet it's impossible to make too many comparisons, because each surrealist goes about in their own way. This one has impressive, uncanny visual effects work for the time, mostly in ways of warping the frame - possibly by stretching the frame in post, or slow-motion in-camera. Then there's the simple act of one person being in a shot, and then the next someone popping up next to the actor through the jump-cut. Smoke is used to great effect at times, especially when violence occurs. Cinema tricks are plenty here, but what I took from the film is how it looks at the inner dream/mind-scape of such a person as the Clergyman. And perhaps this was Artaud's intention, maybe not (the British censors weren't sure what this was, but banned it anyway, possibly a gut reaction).

Why I read into it this way I'm not sure... actually, that's not totally true. It must be noted that this was directed not by a man (as Andalou) but a woman, and I think there's a different take on this because of that - a shot like the one with all the maids bustling about the room, doing their work almost like automatons, that has a woman's touch in a kind of satirical/absurd way. When I watch this film, I see a lot of sexualized imagery, a lot of repression, and it boiling over the surface. The version I watched on YouTube - with a great musical accompaniment that made it feel like a horror film in moments - had the air of an eerie land of nightmare and terror. The best surrealistic shorts has the stream-of-consciousness feel (think Deren or Bunuel or Man Ray), but this one especially has images that perhaps to make sense, in a Dream Logic sort of way, and if one were to follow the images as descriptions on paper, I'm sure it would read more like a poem.

It's a massively successful, deranged effort that can mean many things, but I have a feeling there's something strange about that Man of the Cloth...


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