I STARTED A JOKE

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE August 2012 issue.

 

Some films take serious topics seriously, others take them more lightly – eventually use them as selling points – while others distort them to the point that they really seem comic episodes. But very few directors take them seriously, while laughing in their face.

In 1970, the French director Joël Séria helmed a little project called Don’t deliver us from evil. Carefully labeled by some critics as a »children’s film«, the movie however – at its time – frightened/shocked a couple of the more puritan hearts and very soon afterwards was banned in the US for »blasphemy«.

What is, somehow, rather funny, is that Don’t deliver us from evil is not a blasphemous film, nor is it a film that actually deals with two girls who have suddenly decided to worship Satan (or other thing like that). The film itself has no religious, nor philosophical touch of any kind. It is never solemn, nor is it personal, nor – ultimately – takes itself too seriously. Those seeking to find deeper arguments or truth for the film’s protagonists’ behavior will be greatly disappointed.

This is not a film preaching revolt as a form of change, this is not a film preaching revolt, actually. It is a film that toys with things that most people consider unconceivable, or cruel, immoral, nightmarish, take your pick. The two protagonists of the film play their part well, because they leave all the side implications aside, the entire sophomore details and focus on the game itself, as if now nothing they do is actually real.

It is tempting to draw some parallels between this film and Peter Jackson‘s Heavenly creatures. Both films are (loosely) based on real events. In both we have two girls as protagonists and both films invest a lot in »games« and the idea of »cheerful madness«. However, Peter Jackson‘s film is more restrained, meaning that it uses a more domestic setup and it is, ultimately, strangely self-contained. Joël Séria‘s movie is, I think, more cheerful, but it also invests a lot more in its perversion(s).

Six years later, one of the protagonists of Don’t deliver us from evil »returned« in Marie, the doll. While on the surface considerably more restrained than its predecessor, this film, however, has its share of »unorthodox« moments and just like in its predecessor – we are very likely not to perceive them as such.

The film starts in a cheerful tone and after its first 30 minutes, those unfamiliar with Séria‘s work may think that they are dealing with a very sweet romantic comedy. The irony is that the film may very well fall under that category as well because – again – Joël Séria manages to make the troubling scenes look perfectly natural (I don’t know any other director who can do this as well as he does it).

There are moments in which Marie, the doll reminds me of Valerie and her week of wonders. There is the same child-like purity piercing through both works, however, unlike Valerie…, Séria‘s film has a far more traditional approach as far as the narrative layer is concerned.

There is a particular line in Valerie that seems to embody here:

»Grandmother: Hedvika is marrying.

Valerie: Poor Hedvika

However, unlike in Jaromil Jireš’ film, Marie doesn’t change. She marries, but, in spite of her husband’s efforts, she remains unchanged. There is the same repulsion over the excess of flesh, over the primitive »sexual approach« one can also spot in Valerie and here week of wonders and the same attitude towards useless formalities.

The film also displays an interesting point: from the male protagonist’s standpoint – the game was from the beginning just a game, what came afterwards was real/human, dry, but real. From Marie’s standpoint, the game was real from the beginning, what came afterwards was abuse. She did not want a life that would limit her to some common mechanical activities. The game was an antidote of that, pretty much in the same way it was for the two protagonists in Don’t deliver us from evil. The difference between the two films comes from their nuances. The first deliberately rejects all rules regardless of how this may affect others, while in Marie, the doll the protagonist is harmless. Her needs are simple and they do not affect (not in a meaningful way) others. For her, their bond was something sacred, for him it was just a vehicle: he wanted an object. A pretty little object he can admire every now and again the way he wants. It kind of reminds me of an idiotic ad/commercial/video called Women, know your place.

There are other things to be noticed in this film such as, for example, how mannerisms can turn into something rotten, there is a little déjà vu one may have at the beginning of Marie…, that the male protagonist will end-up being some sort of a villain. His expression gives this away. And also his slight predictability, the fact that he could tell stories about each and every doll he has or, more precisely, that he would let his »targets« know that he is not really interested in those stories, but interested in using them as selling points – and I am well aware that each of you had to deal – at least once – with those kind of people.

At its core, this is a sad film, but the director is not too solemn about this. He distances himself from Marie, lets her be the judge of that. Sometimes her attitude reminds me of Gelsomina (the protagonist from Fellini‘s La Strada). Women falling for posters. Maybe this is one of the hidden messages, because he has one of those faces.

All in all, the film is pretty slow-paced, but it may appeal to a considerable number of people because of its erotic touch. Although, this is not to be taken literally, since the only sex scene in the film is seen though a repulsive eye. It is also interesting to spot connections between Marie… and other films.

That’s about it, Joël Séria was a pleasant director to encounter for me, because of his mastery in making the unthinkable funny, exciting, while staying away from being exploitative. No matter how perverse a scene was, there was always this idea that it is just a game that holds no interest in investing too much in flesh rituals.

Also, Marie the doll works as some kind of Lolita-like story, with a far less creative male protagonist and a far more dedicated female protagonist. Kind of reminds me of a song Dark Lolita, come to think of it, which works well with the film, I may play it from time to time.

by Shade

photo | Marie, the doll. 1976. Movie still

Full article here.