Monday, July 11, 2016

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016 - The Kiss Before the Mirror, James Whale, 1933

The first few shots are a magnificent showcase of highly stylized studio filmmaking. A woman descending through a forest of delicate plastic (?) trees set against a blazing painted backdrop. A man strolling around in his airy, decadent mansion, starting to absorb and then hum along a the sumptous stringband melody on the soundtrack. After a while, a piano also joins in. An when the man finally walks into the room next door, the woman from the first shot is seen sitting on a grandiose grand piano. The whole scene is revealed to be a musical prefiguring of the affair the man and the woman are having. Both of them have just a few minutes of stylish intimacy (acted out through a handful of intricate, flower-framed tableaus) left, until the woman is killed by her husband (and her lover's never seen heard from again for the rest of the film).

The space of adultery is a space of artifice. When the space of "pure adultery" is closed of, the film settles into a less extravagant, but still not at all "normal" audiovisual register. The rest of the film isn't set inside the space of adultery, but always in its vicinity. Or maybe rather: it's all about the discursivation of adultery. At times more of an intellectual game than a psychologically grounded fiction film, The Kiss Before the Mirror proposes: There's a script for adultery, and there's a script for jealousy. Because the second one ends with murder, it has to be changed, through judicial negotiations, and through the bodily eruptions of the great Frank Morgan. And then there's a wonderfully sardonic Jean Dixon, as a lesbian lawyer, suggesting the possibility of life outside the script.

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