Menilmontant, is, in my personal opinion, the best silent as well as expressive cinematic film I have ever seen. Specifically, by looking at the way in which many of the films techniques are representative to that of Germaine Dulac’s work on “The Expressive Techniques of Cinema,” whether it is because of the different camera shots it utilizes, fades and dissolves, as well as the amazing superimpositions the film implements, I will demonstrate what makes this movie such a great expressive work of art.
Similar to Marcel Silver’s film L’Horloge, as is mentioned by Gulac in his article, Menilmontant is also a film which itself has no intertitles throughout the story, but rather, relies solely on the use of images to tell it, and is able to do it in such a magnificent way. In this case, Kirsanoff’s use of camera shots to create certain images throughout the film is rather incredible to see, as he is able to represent the various emotions being felt by the actors in such palpable ways. While this can be seen in many circumstances during the film, as certain examples can be how Kirsanoff uses a lot of close-up or extreme close-up shots for some characters, like the murderers savage expressions or the sisters shocked reactions. The way in which Kirsanoff uses those different shots not only allows the scene in itself to become sort of more “emphasized” by either it’s tragicness, violence, or even surprise, but also, allows us to “feel” the different characters reaction to it in such a “realistic” way. As such, types of shots are of crucial importance to the film’s overall expressiveness, as it not only captures the characters emotion and reaction during a particular moment, but can be either highlighted or dulled depending on the type of shot utilized. As Dulac mentions it, “The machine is based on the effects of the lenses that come closer to or move away from (an object) to frame the picture required for our dialectic. Every lens records the vision we have intellectually conceived in order to transmit it to the film” (308).
Given the fact that audience members can only see what is presented upon them in the film, the use of different kinds of shots is of vital importance in order to successfully communicate a particular emotion. For Kirsanoff, the particular use of close up shots and even sometimes with wider angle ones, is able to triumphantly communicate the particular emotions felt by characters during the film. Another great cinematic technique that further allows the expressiveness in Kirsanoff’s Menilmontant, is the use of fades and dissolves along the film to convey not only a sense of time passing, but also of that of neglect and even disregard. As we see during the film, the use of fades or dissolves is used in moments such as when both sisters leave their home and head towards Paris, and are then shown to be working in the city, representative of a long period of time passing by.
As well as when the sister, who will eventually become pregnant with the man’s child, spends hours, even possibly days, waiting for him only to realize that he has left her in choice of her own sister, signaling a sense of disregard towards her. Here, the use of fades and dissolves around her not only makes it appear as though time has been cruel to her, but that her absence is not actually recognized or even cared about by anyone, and is left all by herself. We can see this during the sequence previous of when she is about to have the baby, as she is standing alone in the middle of the street when the image fades to black and then reappears on the outside of the maternity hospital where she is once again alone and forgotten by everyone. In this case, by using the dissolve and fades in such way, Kirsanoff is able to communicate both the idea of time passing, with that of disregard and uncaringness towards the young girl as it appears that the other characters that meant most to her, her lover and sister, are no longer concerned for her presence or well being but simply take no notice of it. As such, fades and dissolves are also an important technique for expressive cinema, due to its amazing ability of communicating so well a particular emotion and message in the film. The third cinematic technique which is also critical in this film’s cinematic expressiveness, is the use of superimpositions in certain scenes.
Similar to how Dulac praises and refers to the ability of superimpositions being able to “place” or interpret what are some of the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and possibly even hopes Madame Beudet is having with the use of superimpositions in the film. Kirsanoff is also able to do the same in certain scenes during the film, where the use of superimposition is able to communicate the “state” of a particular character. A notable example can be when we see the sister with her baby walking through the bridge, and as she suddenly stops and looks at the water, we then see this rush of various different images along with her face that communicates this emotion of despair and hopelessness that she may be feeling. While no words, or intertiles are used in this sequences, the use of superimposition works so well in this case that the viewer is able to interpret what is the state of mind for her character and possibly even guess what she might do next. In conclusion, Menilmontant, is truly one, if not the best, expressive cinematic silent film I have ever seen. While there are many things that work right in this movie, whether it be the characters acting, use of space, and even the music that goes with it. The use of various expressive techniques such as the ones I have decided to mention, types of shots, fades and dissolves, and superimposition are all key component to this film’s ability of being so expressive.
Whether it is by adding more emphasis to a certain moment, or conveying a sense of forget in the film, and even allowing one to place themselves in the minds of the characters, Menilmontant, evokes such profound and intense feelings and emotions throughout the film, that it becomes hard not to praise it especially by taking into consideration that it is a silent movie, and mainly relies on images to tell a story. While this is the only film I have seen so far from Kirsanoff, I do hope to be able to see any of his other films in order to be able to judge whether they are as equally as masterful as this one.