La Fille de l'Eau (Jean Renoir / France, 1925):

The barge crossing the screen in the opening image is Auguste Renoir’s, of course, but Jean promptly claims the river as his own realm of light and darkness. (An early shot of a character ambling on deck as if on a horizontal escalator is like a lost Keaton gag, and soon enough there’s a corpse being fished out of the idyllic waters.) As the orphaned heroine, Catherine Hessling has frizzy locks and dark-rimmed peepers and squibs of mock-Gish agitation; she grins and sticks out her tongue at the camera while on the shore a boy happily takes pictures, the very definition of jeux de cinéma. From being pawed by a brutish uncle (Pierre Lestringuez) to sitting on branches with the rascally gypsy (Maurice Touzé) to hiding with the landlord’s son (Harold Levingston), "la éducation de bohémienne" as a winding parody of The Perils of Pauline. Frenzied cutting and wistful slow-motion, melodramatic close-ups and diaphanous superimpositions, stallions and fires and lizards: at play between tradition and invention, Renoir gorges on a little of everything. ("A good stew with questionable ingredients," the protagonist’s special dish and also a fine metaphor for youthful eclecticism.) The Southerner’s fishing traps are already visible, the villain is confronted in a dry run for the scuffle in Diary of a Chambermaid and floats away like Boudu. A sort of picnic project, a documentary on the Fontainebleau forest at summertime, complete with a dream sequence at once understood by Cocteau and Vigo. With Charlotte Clasis, Pierre Champagne. and Georges Térof. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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