Friday, December 11, 2009

Insomnie – review

logoDirector: Pierre Étaix

Release date: 1965

Contains spoilers

Insomnie is an obscure short film (it comes in around the 15 minute mark) that was created during a period when the clown, comedian and filmmaker Pierre Étaix was creating many acclaimed films. Due to a legal dispute most of this body of work is unavailable. Indeed this does not appear on imdb and, as you will be able to tell from the screenshots, it has been lifted from a video tape recording.

All this is a shame because the film deserves recognition as an amazing little short. It is silent and yet perfectly explores the gothic vampire genre and fits it in with an amusing, comedic look at a man with insomnia. Indeed we begin with the man who takes some tablets but, when he still cannot sleep, picks up a vampire novel and begins to read.

the daughterThe film cuts to a castle. We see wax melting down a candlestick and then the film lingers over cameos. We see that the candelabrum is carried by a woman in a nightdress. There is a noise and we see the door of the castle being bared by her father, who kisses her goodnight as she retires. He places a cross upon the wall and then takes a seat before the fire.

the vampireWe see a coffin in the basement, and then the father’s cross slides down the wall, falling to the floor. A hand slowly emerges from the coffin. The wife of the reader touches him with her hand and he jumps, mopping his brow before reading on. We see the coffin open, a vampire opens his eyes and as his mouth opens it reveals the sharp fangs of the undead.

casting shadowsThe vampire rises, casting shadows as he moves in moments harking back to Nosferatu and the legacy that film introduced. A shadow falls over the reader, cast by his wife’s knee that she has lifted in her sleep. The vampire enters the room in which the father now sleeps before the fire. He rips the hand of a clock and presses it against the father's neck…

eyes on the cover moveThe vampire goes to the daughter who awakens and runs. There is a palpable tension captured in the film as she is chased and then faints. The reader smokes a skull bowled pipe and smoke seems to issue from his wife’s nose. The daughter is carried back to bed by ‘the hero’, then the film suddenly seems shot upside down – the reader realises he has the book upside down. She is back in bed, candles go out, the vampire is there and the camera shakes, as the book shakes in the reader's hand. Eyes on the cover of the book move of their own accord. The hero finds the father, stabbed in the neck, and pauses to take a drink… the reader’s page falls back one accidentally and he re-reads it... the hero finds the father, stabbed in the neck, and pauses to take a drink...

dead as a batThere is a scream and the hero bursts into a room and chases the vampire off. The vampire throws a candlestick at the hero but the cock calls and sunlight starts peppering the room, the vampire becomes caught in the light. Eventually there is a cloak upon the floor and, when the hero moves it, we see a bat that is created from dust and this dust blows away. The camera cuts to the girl but she vanishes and then appears and vanishes and then appears as the reader’s eyes finally begin to close with tiredness. He kisses his wife and goes to sleep.

wife vamps outThat, you would think, was all but Étaix codas this marvellous little piece of film with the wife developing fangs as the reader sleeps. The fact that he was able to capture so much tension and atmosphere in a film with no dialogue was great in itself. The contrasting against the reader, with the ensuing gentle comedy, and how the reader effected the film we saw of the book was brilliantly done. Étaix’ films deserve to be out and available and this deserves to be better known amongst vampire genre fans. 7 out of 10.


Christine said...

As a fan of Gothic vampire stories I am saying: sounds good!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers, as always, for stopping by Christine