Brugge, die stille
- 1h 30m
Hugues cannot get over the untimely death of his wife Blanche, who made him happy for ten years. He lives alone in his house in Bruges, a city he would like to be dead like his wife. The sor... Read allHugues cannot get over the untimely death of his wife Blanche, who made him happy for ten years. He lives alone in his house in Bruges, a city he would like to be dead like his wife. The sorrowful widower has transformed the place he lives in into a shrine dedicated to his belove... Read allHugues cannot get over the untimely death of his wife Blanche, who made him happy for ten years. He lives alone in his house in Bruges, a city he would like to be dead like his wife. The sorrowful widower has transformed the place he lives in into a shrine dedicated to his beloved wife. One day, he meets Jeanne, a ballet dancer, who looks like Blanche.
The brilliant adaptation of a literary work
Most people, spectators as well as critics, have turned their backs on this movie and so did I, when I first saw it. Bruges is nowadays known as an attractive, warm city that millions of people come to visit every year while in the movie it looks dismal and deserted. The short novel from which the movie was adapted tells the story of a widower obsessed by the image of the beloved bride he recently lost. He happens to encounter a young girl who looks exactly like the deceased and falls in love with her or at least fancies he does. This might have been a touching love story with a resurrection à la Vertigo but it turns out to be the story of the chilling passion of a deranged mind. It was only years later, when I lived in Bruges, that I had the curiosity of reading the novel "Bruges-la-Morte" and that I understood what the screenwriters had achieved. The book has been written by Georges Rodenbach, a Flemish journalist, novelist and poet who wrote in French, which was not exceptional at the time. He was, at the end of the 19th century, one of the founders of the Symbolist literary school to which also belonged, among others, his schoolmate Emile Verhaeren as well as poets Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire. First published in "Le Figaro" in Paris, his gloomy novel should not be taken literally. It is essentially a matter of symbols and the key to these is already to be found in the original title of the book where the dashes between "Bruges-la-morte" tell us that there is an identification in the mind of the main character, Hughes Viane, between the dying city and his dead wife, while he himself has also mentally ceased to be alive. The original Dutch title "Brugge, die Stille" (no dashes) and the English title "Bruges, still life" are not correct: it is not a matter of being quiet; it a matter of being dead. Larger than London in the Middle Ages, Bruges had known a slow decay of its economy after the silting up of its harbour and even a few decades before Rodenbach wrote his novel more than 30% of the local population lived on welfare. No wonder we have here a most depressing story. Knowing on what kind of story the screenplay was based, my admiration for Roland Verhavert, whose own favourite movie this is, started to grow and I fully appreciated the genial treatment screenwriter Théodore Louis (also a distinguished film critic) gave to this most unusual book. It is a masterly adaptation and as such deserves the greatest admiration. We may however ask ourselves whether it was wise to bring to the screen a novel that is famous by its title, but that most people never read, and, in this case, that needs a key to its symbolism in order to be understood. When John Huston filmed James Joyces "The Dubliners" his screenwriter, and son, Tony Huston made the same adaptation effort in order to be true to the spirit of Joyce's short story which they renamed "The Dead" in order to be very clear about the real content of it. Here,on the contrary, the producers of the movie tried to sweeten the approach by switching from "dead" to "still" and thus enhanced the disappointment of the spectator who expected to see a cheerful little city that has kept alive its medieval aspect. But this happened precisely because it was so pitiable in the 19th century that no one wanted to invest in new constructions and that the old ones were preserved. I gladly give 9 stars (nobody's perfect) to this film for the exceptional quality of the translation of the intrinsic literary value of a book into cinematographic language, not only by its skillful screenplay but also by the brilliant work of cinematographer Walther van den Ende (himself from Bruges).
- Sep 18, 2005
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