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There is something quite uncanny about À travers la forêt. If you take a look at Camille Berthomier in her role in this movie as protagonist Armelle, and compare her to Juliette Gréco as Aglaonice (leader of the Bacchantes) in Jean Cocteau's Orphée you can see a quite striking resemblance in terms of looks, facial expression and eventually hairstyle. Also of interest is that both movies are neoclassical, and contain supernatural mirror tricks.
Armelle is one of three sisters (Bérénice and Roxane are the others), who bring to mind references such as the witch sisters of Macbeth, or the three Graces, Fates, or Gorgons of classical mythology. The Graces are hinted at the most with the classical triangular arrangement employed when the sisters visit a bar. Although both Bérénice and Roxane have men, we never see them, and the only time the other two sisters are on screen they complete a circle with Armelle, that no-one else enters. It's all the more potent then that Armelle's obsession with her dead boyfriend is rupturing the extreme valency of this unit.
The feel of the movie is what's important here, the movie pays absolutely no lip service to zeitgeist, minimalist sets with few extras, a movie that stays indoors until the climax, and every scene is shot continuously, to create an organic feeling. Someone once said that every edit is like an abrupt awakening from a dream, here Civeyrac keeps the movie as dream-like as possible.
A question that arises for me from watching the movie is the nature of a woman's love, which seems here to relate very much to the feeding of vanity and egotism by flattery, where a man's role is simply to be the "mirror mirror on the wall". As Sophie Marceau intoned in Possession, "The only thing women have in common, is menstruation", but I have certainly met one or two women who fall into the Armelle mould.
À travers la forêt is very loosely based on neoclassicist Jean Racine's 1677 play Phèdre, where a woman is also driven mad by love, and an innocent male character (called Hippolyte in play and film) is used by the female protagonist. The unusually named sisters of Armelle are also sourced from Racine (Roxane from the play Bazajet, and Bérénice eponymously).
It's a short film (just over an hour) but manages to build up a ferocity of madness by the end that is quite overwhelming. I also am an absolute sucker for films that use John Cage music, in this case "Two⁴" for Violin and Sho (played by the great Irvine Arditti, and Mayumi Miyata), but most fittingly Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question".
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