La femme et le pantin
- 1h 50m
Womanizer Don Mateo helps a girl in a train when attacked by a other woman. This girl, Conchita - a cigarette maker, soon visits the rich Don Mateo at his palace in Sevillia. He falls for he... Read allWomanizer Don Mateo helps a girl in a train when attacked by a other woman. This girl, Conchita - a cigarette maker, soon visits the rich Don Mateo at his palace in Sevillia. He falls for her, but she likes to play with him. Sometimes she encourages his advances, then she rejects... Read allWomanizer Don Mateo helps a girl in a train when attacked by a other woman. This girl, Conchita - a cigarette maker, soon visits the rich Don Mateo at his palace in Sevillia. He falls for her, but she likes to play with him. Sometimes she encourages his advances, then she rejects him. Furthermore, there's a portrait of a young man in her room. When he offers her money... Read all
Actually, the copy I landed suffered from minor recurrences of freezing glitches, seems to me to have been more worn-out than was evident on the Criterion disc and sports French intertitles (reconstructed by the co-screenwriter of OBSCURE OBJECT itself, Jean-Claude Carriere!) and forced German subtitles (being sourced from a transmission on the "Arte" TV channel); thankfully, the French I learned in school over 20 years ago is still up to scratch for me to be able to read the text and understand it! In spite of that, one does wonder why, if this version has been restored in the late 1990s as it is stated on the print I watched, it has never been made available in its entirety – if not by itself, at least on one of the several DVD editions released of OBSCURE OBJECT since then because, while not scaling the heights of the latter or the Sternberg adaptation, it is well worth checking out and makes for undeniably fascinating comparison!
Unlike those two celebrated versions, the story is here told in real time rather than in flashback but, like Bunuel's film, it opens during an eventful train journey which is where Don Mateo first meets Conchita – interrupting a catfight (also incorporated into the Sternberg version) between her and an older dancer whose performance she had mocked by mimicking a bullfighter! Incidentally, the film's very opening and last shots are dedicated to a painting by Goya showing a crowd hoisting a matador up in the air! The leading roles are essayed by equally obscure actors: 18-year old Conchit(a)! Montenegro and Raymond Destac, both of whom strongly reminded me of Hollywood actors Claudette Colbert and Paul Stewart!; while the former has the requisite spunk and sensuous charge for the role, the latter lacks the reptilian slyness of Lionel Atwill or the suave charm of Fernando Rey. Curiously enough, in a mostly vain attempt at an online search I did to dig up more information on this 1929 version, I came across an idiosyncratic "Top 3,000 Films Of All-Time" list which puts OBSCURE OBJECT at number 87, DEVIL at 797 and PUPPET itself at 1370!
Although I recently purchased a copy of the novel, I have yet to read it but, as the Criterion supplements had already inferred, it could well be that Bunuel had watched this version during its initial theatrical run because two scenes here have very similar counterparts in OBSCURE OBJECT: Conchita's clandestine nude dance routine at a sleazy cabaret (a startlingly explicit one for 1929) subsequently broken up by Mateo's angry outburst, and her amorous taunting of Mateo (helplessly watching from behind iron gates) in her midnight tryst with her recurring lover Morenito at the house the former had bought for her; another effective scene later reprised in both the Sternberg and Bunuel versions is when Mateo beats up Conchita (though the latter is, again, closest to it in spirit). On the domestic side, it was clever to have Conchita displaying a portrait of Morenito (he keeps cropping up everywhere, to Mateo's eternal chagrin!) in her bedroom, but I thought the actress chosen to portray her mother was far too elderly. By the end of the film, Mateo's best friend (who was with him on the initial train journey and appears intermittently throughout the film) is almost under Conchita's spell too when they catch her act in a Cadiz nightclub!; in DEVIL, this character gets a much more sizeable representation in Cesar Romero but, again, the actor playing him here is far less effective than Julien Bertheau in the Bunuel film.
For being a largely unknown director, I found De Baroncelli's handling of the material to be quite stylish and occasionally striking: the naked dancing figure of Conchita reflected in a wine bottle; the dancing central couple shot from a very high angle; Mateo charging at the impenetrable gate like a mad bull, etc. Conversely, the intertitles, were somewhat lackadaisical and repetitive: there must have been around 50 recurrences of the word "love" throughout the film! Anyway, from a cursory glance at the director's output, I own LES MYSTERES DE Paris (1943; but have yet to see it) and am interested in catching the following: MICHEL STROGOFF (1935), VOLPONE (1941; co-directed with Maurice Tourneur), L'HONORABLE CATHERINE (1943; co-directed with Marcel L'Herbier) and ROCAMBOLE (1948; an Italian-dubbed copy of its 1963 remake currently lies in my bottomless unwatched pile).
- Jun 2, 2011