Writer-director Agnès Varda’s playful Les créatures sparkles and captivates. It is one of those works where we’re not always sure what is real and what is being imagined, especially since the protagonist is a writer continually in the throes of creating. But, of course, the imagination is also “real,” as are the solitude and loneliness that attend the creative process. Varda dedicates the film to Jacques Demy, her husband; but why? Because he minimizes her feelings of loneliness when she creates? Or, because he is a filmmaker also, he also knows the solitude and loneliness of the creative process only too well?
In any case, in due course Varda associates the solitude of the creative artist, and the loneliness attending the effort to create, with the infirmity of a sick old man and the unresolved nature of a woman’s affair with a married man. Perhaps Keatsian negative capability is required in all three of these predicaments.
Varda’s film begins with a couple, Edgar and Mylène, on the road in a car, with Edgar driving fast and Mylène gently imploring him to slow down. Edgar gently resists; a writer, he gets ideas for his writing—mysteries; science fiction*—and writers, of course, need ideas. But then how do we know that their crack-up is a real occurrence or an “idea”? How do we even know whether Mylène is separate and real?
As the couple recuperate, from the possibly unreal road accident, near a seaside hotel, their continual sweetness and affection—all lovey-dovey—indeed has a distinct air of unreality about it. We may decide, then, that Mylène, herself, is a figment of Edgar’s imagination—as indeed are the seaside hotel, its impressive proprietress, the doctor, and all the other inhabitants/characters that make up the community in which Edgar now finds himself—or loses himself. Do we not at least half-create all those whom we meet given that we perceive them according to how we interpret them?
The title of this film refers to at least two sets of things. One of these is animal creatures. For instance, editing substitutes the underside of a crab, with all those creases, legs and claws, for the automobile crunched and mangled from the car accident. Crabs abound in this film; they are caught and marketed. There is also a serene horse and two black cats, one alive and another, which suddenly and mysteriously appears outside Edgar’s temporary residence, that is dead. Whose cat is this? Edgar tries to find its owner; when this fails, he buries the cat himself, thereby taking ownership of the dead, dark creature. It’s his, and may have always been his (symbolically, imaginatively).
The other “creatures” are pointed out by a mad scientist-type who enlists Edgar in a board game that substitutes for chess pieces miniature facsimiles of the people in this community. Edgar will be declared the winner if a single pair or couple harmoniously stays intact. On a giant screen in the madman’s lair erupt fantasies/realities wherein one pair or couple after another falls apart, sometimes violently—in red-tinted monochrome in an otherwise black-and-white film. If Edgar wins, the prize is that he and Mylène will remain together. The game itself is too complicated for me to understand its rules fully, but a deck of cards is involved, and the card that comes up somehow determines how a particular piece, that is to say, person, is moved on the checkered board. Probably there are no exact rules and it is a nonsense-game; in any case, an enraged Edgar eventually smashes the monitor—the screen-within-the-screen.
Incidentally, one glorious passage shows a young girl, Zazie’s soul-sister, gleefully wrecking every inch of an indoor market. Her fun is contagious!
The film ends with a shot of the baby Mylène has just given birth to. It’s a boy! (Varda, I assume, is chiding the clichéd preference for boys over girls.) But if Mylène is Edgar’s imagined wife, this “baby” must also be imagined, and Edgar is alone with his creation—baby; book.
Do not miss this fabulous film. It is a postmodern treat.
* Hm. Mystery; science fiction: One doesn’t have to wonder for whom Edgar was named. An American writer that the French have embraced as one of their own: Edgarpoe.
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