Christmas Eve Night

Nuit de Noël (Christmas Eve Night)
Dir. and actors unknown. P: Pathé frères. Fr 1908
Engl. intertitles

Nuit de Noël (1908) (…) tells the familiar story of a woman’s infidelity and her husband’s revenge, but makes the main characters a simple fisherman, his wife, and a miller, in the ‘wilds’ of Britanny. As beautifully composed as is the opening rose-tinted HA LS of the Breton harbor where the fisherman puts out to sea in small sailing ship, it takes on particular significance when the wife comes into the foreground, turns and waves, and then exits crying, quite close to the camera. This focus on her desolate state carries over into the next shots (now toned sepia) as she pauses at a cross marker on a barren hill, walks along an empty slope (with a windmill, bare tree, and lighthouse on the distant horizon), and approaches their two-story stone house. Another sequence of LSs (here sepia toning shifts to yellow-green tinting) takes her to the windmill, pulling a wheelbarrow through a landscape of scattered, huge upright stones, as if to mark the earth itself as a land of the dead – and perhaps evoke the threat of her husband’s possible death at sea.
That this shocking story occurs on Christmas Eve (…) does make the film almost deliberately blasphemous. And while this anticlerical attitude was typical of grand guignol – and of French culture during the Third Republic in general – it seemed distinctly ‘foreign’ in the United States where one reviewer was disturbed enough to call for its censorship. But what was perhaps just as unsettling or ‘offensive’ was the ambiguity of the film’s attitude toward the woman in this story. For, if at least one intertitle condemns her as a coquette, many of the images lend her desire, even her subjectivity, some legitimacy – at least until her character is nearly erased in the sheer savagery and violence of her husband’s revenge.”
Richard Abel: The Cine Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914, Updated and Expanded Edition. University of California Press 1998, p. 202-204

Note on terms: HA = high angle (shot from above eye level), LS = long shot

>>> Alfred Machin’s Le moulin maudit