ENTR’ACTE (René Clair, 1924)

Let’s set aside whether it’s more Dada or Surreal. Is it so bizarre, really, it “could mean anything”? Do we think of René Clair in that way? Those who do not see that Entr’acte is a unified work of art are probably mistaking discontinuity—the origin of the Dada-or-Surrealism debate regarding the film—for disunity. Clair’s wonderful satire—yes: that’s what Clair invariably is: a satirist—is thematically whole and scarcely esoteric.
     What is this film about? War. (The film followed by six years the conclusion of a world war that devastated France and the rest of Europe; war’s shadow still hung far and wide.) The film opens with a military cannon that’s out of control; it moves around, apparently, on its own volition. Hm. Two men are playing chess, a board game that simulates war. Hm. At a fair, a man gets frustrated at a shooting gallery, perhaps the result of myopia; eventually, however, he hits a balloon, which suddenly turns into a real bird, reminding us how real war is. A twirling ballerina is shown from an overhead camera and from a camera looking up underneath a glass floor. In slow motion, her tutu reminds some viewers of a flower’s opening. I’m perverse; I see a metaphorical image of aerial bombing. (The First World War is the first occasion for this activity.) A procession of people, in slow motion, follows a camel that is dragging a hearse. Hm. These people gather around a coffin from which a man rises. He is a magician. He makes all the men gathered around disappear one by one before he makes himself disappear. I know that different interpretations of visual data are possible. But whatever else this film is about, most certainly it’s about war.

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