La Souriante Madame Beudet – Germaine Dulac (1922).

I always figured French Impressionist Cinema was about being vague, pretentious and ending with the word FIN.

Sad Clown Flipping A Pancake

Thankfully Germaine Dulac took my naïve* ass to school on the subject.

* naïve – a French word.

The avant-garde director fashioned a new style of cinema while advocating her beliefs on basic human rights – specifically a person’s choice to be independent, nonconformist and most importantly happy.

The Smiling Madame Beaudet tells the story of a woman’s creativity stifled by an overbearing husband. Most of her time is spent fantasizing over the tedious mans untimely death.

“It isn’t enough to simply capture reality in order to express it in its totality; something else is necessary in order to respect it entirely, to surround it in its atmosphere, and to make its moral meaning perceptible…” G. D. Towards an Integral Cinema (1928).

Through the lens of Dulac the simple story becomes frightfully fascinating by her focus on character psychology rather then Hollywood spectacle.

For some it would seem a lack of budget inspires innovation. The director seems to relentlessly invent new ways to portray her characters’ inner states by camera movement, editing and manipulation of image. It was this continued fight against clichés* and boundaries that gave birth to French Impressionism.

* cliché – another French word.

This brings us to our third word of the day…


Most definitions of the word make little more sense than Klingon to a Twilight fan but after scrounging through online film archives I found this gem of a description;

“Photogénie is a complex theoretical concept that seeks to transcend film from it’s photochemical/mechanical base to a platform of art.”

But what does it all mean?

I’d imagine there were endless circles of debate in the 1920’s concerning the legitimacy of film as a new medium. These discussions boiled down to a single theory – Germaine Dulac and her rebellious rebels all seemed to agree that an object photographed takes on a life of its own.

This life became known as Photogénie.

Impressionist directors of the time believed this is what made film awesome as it gave the viewer a marvelous window into a character’s perspective.

For the first time a storyteller had the unique ability to show the world through someone elses Point Of View. Furthermore, a filmmaker could manipulate image to convey their characters’ subjective inner states.

Norman Bates might see the world through dark reflections of fractured mirror while Polly Anna’s view of life could be shown through rose-coloured filter.

Narrative as before seen in literature and theater were now deemed “old art”. Germaine Dulac would be the fresh blood for a new generation of storytellers.


Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) – Feminist, Theorist, Filmmaker.


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