Le pêcheur de perles
R: Ferdinand Zecca. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1907
“In 1898 Charles Pathé engaged ‘for a few weeks’ a young man who ‘was playing the cornet at the Foire au Pain d’épices’. The few weeks were to last almost twenty years. The young man was Ferdinand Zecca. He was the second son of the concierge of the Théâtre de l’Ambigu in Paris, and was making his living as a café entertainer. In 1899, Zecca and another artist, Charlus, were performing a musical fantasia entitled Le Muet mélomane. At the request of Dufayel, owner of the Grands Magasins Dufayel, they acted the piece before a camera. In April 1900, at the Paris Exposition Universelle, Charles Pathé, in a hurry to instal the pavilion allocated to him, gave the job to Zecca. He managed it so well that Pathé appointed him as assistant to the director at his Vincennes factory. From then on until 1906, Zecca himself directed or supervised several hundred Pathé films. The first of these are obvious copies or plagiarisms of English films, for example La loupe de grand-mère or Rêve et réalité, both from 1901, to cite only two.”
Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema
“(…) an elaborate fantasy in which the hero is seduced into the depths of the sea by five magical maidens. The film clearly recalls at least two earlier deep-sea fantasies made by Georges Méliès: La Sirène (The Mermaid, 1904) and Jack le ramoneur (The Chimney Sweep, 1906). In the first, a male magician orchestrates a libidinous fantasy of wish-fulfillment by transforming himself into the god of the sea and conjuring a delectable mermaid to share his undersea conch. In the second, a young man dreams that he’s transported across the waters and crowned her king by a princess on a seashell.
Zecca’s film opens on the scene of a young man lounging on a fountain under the arc of a rainbow. When the five maidens materialize, he leaps into the fountain and sinks into the blue waters of the sea, where he encounters a giant starfish that turns into yet another lovely maiden and directs him inside an outsized scallop. There, water sylphs dance for him as he appears to declare his love for their queen. He then awakens as from a dream, but we see immediately that it was no dream, for he’s sleeping on an underwater oyster, and although he’s missing most of his clothes, there is a great string of pearls at his side. The queen of the mermaids rises out of the shell and vanishes, leaving us to assume that the pearls have been left as payment for services rendered in an arcane ritual of a sexual nature.
Zecca, however, does not end the the film at this point. Rather, we follow the hero back to his terrestrial home and his real-life beloved. He bestows the pearls upon her, whereupon her dress turns to a gown of gold and the mermaid queen reappears, draping the whole house with pearls and performing what appears to be a marriage ceremony attended by the maidens who had danced for the young man the night before. With the addition of this epilogue, Zecca dramatically underscores a couple of elaborate ironies at work in his parable. First, the final scene treats us to the spectacle of a man seducing his bride with the fruits of services as a gigolo performed just the night before. (The French word pêcheur, by the way, means sinner as well as fisherman.) The jest, then, comes at the expense of conventional morality, and it also reverses the gender roles in the recurring melodramatic formula by which the heroine is offered compensation for her virtue that will simultaneously make marital bliss economically possible.”