LE TEMPESTAIRE (Jean Epstein, 1947)

Steeped in mysticism and regional folklore, The Storm-Tamer is among Jean Epstein’s loveliest films. Enacted (not always convincingly) by nonprofessionals, the story is slight. On the Brittany coast, a girl doesn’t want a fisherman—boyfriend? spouse?—to go out right before a storm. She tells him, “I am afraid of the wind.” He reassures her and leaves with others in fragile boats. Time passes; the storm rises. The girl visits a former “storm-tamer”; her profound superstitiousness igniting his old black magic, he unwraps his crystal ball. The girl is mesmerized. The globe drops, shatters. The boy reappears to lead the girl away. “The wind has passed.”
     Epstein’s poetic film captures the mysteriousness and haunting mood that the overproduced Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, 1948) would flail and labor at. It begins with static shots, including one of three fishermen studying the sea to determine whether they should venture out. Stillness gently replaces non-motion; more and more, motion is admitted into the frames. The storm itself is given a powerful, eerie rendering as waves crash against rocks; slow-motion and (in slow-motion) reverse-motion are stunningly employed, conjuring an elemental world of sight and sound beyond the measure of Time. It could be the birth of humanity—or of cinema.
     The older woman with whom the girl spins: it is interesting that she is the non-superstitious one. At the same time, this makes sense: the mother, or perhaps mother-in-law, is a portrait of composure and acceptance; in her anxious state, however, the girl looks for “omens.” When the door of the cottage seemingly opens by itself, showing a vertical line of outdoor light, the girl declares it a “bad omen.” And so it may be, given that everything she looks upon reveals the girl’s bedeviled state of mind.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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