Whirlpool of Fate-attachment0

Whirlpool of Fate

Movie Information

In Brief: Jean Renoir's debut film seems first and foremost intended to show off the charms and beauty of Renoir's star (and then-wife) Catherine Hessling. It's less a story than just a series of melodramatic events in which to drop Mrs. Renoir, and as such it's a pretty patchy affair. However, there's enough of the fledgling filmmaker to more than maintain interest, including a very strange and atypical nightmare sequence.
Genre: Romantic Melodrama
Director: Jean Renoir
Starring: Catherine Hessling, Charlotte Clasis, Pierre Champagne, Maurice Touzé
Rated: NR

Admirers of the biopic Renoir — which scored a surprising (if deserved) local success recently — will find Jean Renoir’s first film, Whirlpool of Fate (1925), of increased interest. It stars Catherine Hessling, the woman depicted in Renoir, who inspired both the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his son Jean. This film is the first flowering of Jean Renoir’s filmmaking efforts — and his desire to make his then-wife a star. From the standpoint of film history, it’s more interesting to see the development of the filmmaker than his star. Hessling is appealing enough and has a certain charm, but the fact that her career survived neither her break-up with Renoir, nor the advent of sound isn’t all that surprising. Renoir, on the other hand, would go on to be one of the greats of cinema. Here, he’s a raw talent — obviously influenced by both D.W. Griffith and the surrealists. And, yes, that mix is about as awkward as it sounds.

His first film is sometimes idyllic, sometimes downright strange, and almost entirely melodramatic. There’s not much story. The film simply moves has Ms. Hessling landing in a series of not very compelling melodramatic situations — losing her father, being at the mercy of an abusive and lecherous uncle, taking up with gypsies, becoming a servant, being forced into thievery by her returning uncle — before arriving at a happy ending. Some of imagery is nice and Renoir’s occasional use of rapid cutting is interesting. The stylistic highlight is a very odd nightmare sequence that suggests Renoir had seen some F.W. Murnau and Abel Gance films, and Rene Clair’s Entr’acte (1924). I don’t know that it’s exactly successful, but it’s certainly fascinating.

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Whirlpool of Fate Sunday, June 23, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “Whirlpool of Fate

  1. Ken Hanke

    I haven’t tested it in some time. I don’t think I’ve been there since the Epic was the only place Be Kind Rewind was running back in 2008. (That journey — made under cover of night — was what caused me to badger Neal Reed into booking it at the Fine Arts, where it was much better received than it was in Hendersonville.) Fortunately, the films shown by the HFS tend to be portable.

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