Tag Archives: Melancholy

9 Years on the Blog: There are places I don’t remember, There are times and days, they mean nothing to me

20 Oct

“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking on the days that are no more.”

(Lord Tennyson – Tears, Idle Tears)

John Everett Millais, Autumn Leaves, 1856

Today my blog is nine years old! At first I didn’t really know what to say on this ocassion, I thought: nine years and that is that, whatever, nothing to say. I am a person who doesn’t usually enjoy birthdays or anniversaries because they remind me of the passing of time, but that is precisely why this nine year blog anniversary does matter and why I decided to celebrate it anyway. It matters because it is not only the nine years of this blog and almost a thousands posts published, it is also nine years of my life. Every year, every season on the blog, every painting, every post is a fragment of my life, and my soul. Every anniversary of this blog reminds me of the passing of time. Thinking about nine years that have passed sets me off into a reverie…

Thinking of transience, I cannot help but hear in my mind the wistful violins from Tindersticks’ 1995 song “Travelling Light”. The song’s lyrics hold a special meaning for me and the older I get the more I can relate to them; people come into your life and leave it without a noise, without a sound and days go on like nothing has changed. People die, and leave, and disappear, and yet you get up the next morning and drink coffee and life goes one. Hearts get broken and brokenly live on, to quote the Romantic Lord Byron whose “muse” I am. Well, I am not really but I named my blog so. Things that seemed so important back then now mean nothing to me, and faces from old photographs are like ghosts from another life. I am usually a person who clings to every littlest thing that has memory for me; a piece of paper, train ticket, pressed flower, for I am hopelessly clinging to the past, in vain trying to stop the unstoppable; the passing of time. But lately I had started to feel like Miss Havisham, suffocating in my little room full of spiderwebs, pretty objects and memories and so I am learning to shed myself from the burden of all those memories, like a snake sheds off its skin, so that I may walk lighter into the future. Here are the lyrics:

There are places I don’t rememberThere are times and days, they mean nothing to meI’ve been looking through some of them old picturesThey don’t serve to jog my memory
I’m not waking in the morning, staring at the walls these daysI’m not getting out the boxes, spread out all over the floorI’ve been looking through some of them old picturesThose faces they mean nothing to me no more
I travel lightYou travel lightEverything I’ve doneYou say you can justify, mmm you travel light
I can’t pick them out, I can’t put them in these sad old bagsSome things you have to lose along the wayTimes are hard, I’ll only pick them out, wish I was going backTimes are good, you’ll be glad you ran away….
*
There are many reasons why I chose John Everett Millais’ painting “Autumn Leaves” for this post; firstly, because it is one of my favourite paintings; secondly, because it is poetic and beautiful and represent the mood I have been trying to cultivate on my blog for years; and thirdly, because its autumnal setting is a perfect setting for my thoughts about transience and the passing of time. The painting – a true Pre-Raphaelite gem – shows four girls in the dusk of the day gathering leaves in a pile. What a simple scene visually yet imbued with so much wistfulness, melancholy and lyrical beauty. The dried orange and brown leaves set the time of the year; autumn, a time for farewells and endings. The sky in the background, painted in purples and yellow, so romantic, a perfect twilight, as Millais had put it. The two long-haired girls in black dresses were the younger sisters of Millais’ wife; Alice and Sophy Gray. Their round faces are full of girlish innocence, but still melancholy is casting a shadow over them, and their large blue eyes are filled with yearning. Millais had painted Sophie on many ocassions and her face, with the blue eyes laden with sadness and cherry red lips is perfect for the Pre-Raphaelite art. Rosy cheeks and wistful gazes, these girls are caught at the border between girlhood and womanhood; fragile, sad days. One more autumn passing by, one more year passing by… how many are left?
I will take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been following my blog in the past nine years and everyone who shared their words of encouragment and kindness with me.

Depeche Mode and Caspar David Friedrich: Pleasures Remain So Does the Pain, Words are Meaningless and Forgettable

9 Oct

Autumn is a time for wistfulness, melancholy and introspection, and also a time for one of my favourite painters Caspar David Friedrich whose Romantic landscapes perfectly fit this autumnal mood.

Caspar David Friedrich, Memories of the Giant Mountains, 1835

These days I was listening to Depeche Mode and I especially enjoyed the song “Enjoy the Silence” which is probably their most recognisable song anyway. I also enjoyed watching the video, directed by Anton Corbijn, where the singer Dave Gaham is dressed as a king and is seen walking around through fields, meadows, beaches and mountains; all the landscapes which irresistibly bring to mind the moody landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. The specific places in the video are the Scottish Highlands, the Algarve coast in Portugal and the Swiss Alps which beautifully showcases the beauties and diverities of European landscapes. All of these places in nature; forests, beaches, snow-capped mountains, can easily be found not only in paintings of Friedrich but also in paintings of other Romantic painters. Corbijn’s concept behind the video was that the King (Dave Gahan) represented “a man with everything in the world, just looking for a quiet place to sit; a king of no kingdom.” I think the video is a good representation of that.

Whilst gazing at the video, I suddenly remembered something that my friend had said. Years ago he had sent me the video to the song “Enjoy the Silence” and pointed at the similarity between the video’s aesthetic and the landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. I hadn’t seen the video before he had sent it to me because I was mostly listening to Depeche Mode from my mother’s casettes, so this was something very interesting to me. These days my thoughts again turned to Depeche Mode and Friedrich and finally I felt it was the right time to tackle the topic because, as you know, I am always fond of discovering aesthetic parallels between art and rock music and poetry. I had done so previously by connecting the cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s album “Crocodiles” (1980) and “Heaven Up Here” (1981) to Friedrich’s landscapes. I am writing this post with the memories of my friend who, although estranged from me now, will always have a place in my heart. And, interestingly, Corbijn also directed many music videos of Echo and the Bunnymen too.

Scenes from the “Enjoy the Silence” video.

In some scenes of the video, Gahan is seen as a solitary figure against the vast landscape; a transient figure passing through the ever-lasting landscapes of beauty. In some scenes he is sitting and turning his back to us, which is again something we see often in Friedrich’s art, for example in his famous painting “Moonrise Over the Sea” (1822). In the scenes filmed at the beach in Portugal the sea waves are crushing onto the sandy shore and Gahan is seen looking out at the sunset over the sea, everything painted in dusky pink and purple shades, and this romantic imagery is also seen in many of Friedrich’s beach scenes. In one scene Gahan is walking across a landscape where the tree is the only other thing in the scene and there is a tight line separating the land from the vastness of the sky. This, for example, made me think of Friedrich’s painting “Monk by the Sea” (1808-1810). I also incorporated the lyrics of the song into this post because I like them, I think they are wise and profound and they fit the mood of loneliness and isolation that Friedrich’s landscapes have.

Words like violenceBreak the silenceCome crashing inInto my little worldPainful to mePierce right through meCan’t you understand?Oh, my little girl
Caspar David Friedrich, Evening, 1821
Caspar David Friedrich, Seashore by Moonlight, 1835-36
All I ever wantedAll I ever neededIs here in my armsWords are very unnecessaryThey can only do harm
Caspar David Friedrich, Riesengebirge, 1830-35
Scenes from the “Enjoy the Silence” video.
Caspar David Friedrich, Sunset (Brothers) or Evening landscape with two men, 1830-35
Vows are spokenTo be brokenFeelings are intenseWords are trivialPleasures remainSo does the painWords are meaninglessAnd forgettable
Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Sea, 1808-10
Scenes from the “Enjoy the Silence” video.

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Summer Sang In Me a Little While, That In Me Sings No More

9 Sep

One of my favourite poems these days is “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why” by the American poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay, originally published in November 1920. In this poem Millay looks back at all the “lips her lips have kissed” and she tries to remember where and why those kisses have occured. She compares the beating of the rain against the window to the ghosts of her memories, or ghosts of her dead (failed) love relationships, haunting her. In her heart “there stirs a quiet pain” when she realises that she cannot remember the names or the faces of the “lads” who will not shout out for her at night. The loves, just like summer, were vibrant but transitory and fragile, and unlike summer will not return next year. I feel like this is a moment of sobering up. After being drunk on life and drunk on love, she is alone and in a wistful, reflective mood, the rain outside her only companion. Now, summer has passed, love has passed, and she compares herself to a lonely tree in winter which used to be full of birds chirping and is now solitary, with no leaves or birdnests, utterly forgotten… Where does love go when it goes away? Were the kisses, now nought but pale memories, worth it in the end?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal, 1854, watercolour

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Berthe Morisot – Julie Manet, Reading in a Chaise Lounge

27 Jun

“But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

(C.S.Lewis)

Berthe Morisot; Julie Manet, Reading in a Chaise Lounge, 1890, watercolor on paper

I discovered this lovely watercolour the other day and for me it is a double treat; firstly because I adore the medium of watercolour, and secondly because I love Berthe Morisot’s paintings of her daughter Juliet. Berthe Morisot was an established painter from the Impressionist circle and she was married to the fellow painter Eugene Manet, the brother of the painter Edouard Manet, and had one child with him, a daughter named Julie. Morisot had painted her daughter Julie on so many ocassions during her childhood and teenage years; Julie reading, Julie with a nanny, Julie with her dog, Julie playing a violin, Julie lost in daydreams… But this is the first portrait that I have seen painted in watercolour and that is something particularly interesting to me. In a simple yet delightful manner Morisot has captured her daughter enjoying some leisure hours by reading a book. Julie was twelve years old at the time this painting was painted.

The style is sketchy and loose which gives it a fresh and spontaneous feel, but it is clear enough that we can see Julie’s delicate, slightly melancholy face and her dark blue dress. Julie’s face seems tinged with a certain wistfuness, melancholy dreaminess, in most of the portraits of her, even the photograph which you can see bellow. Perhaps that is part of the reason I am so drawn to portraits of her; Julie’s dreaminess speaks to the dreaminess that is within me. I really enjoy gazing at all the shades and strokes of Julie’s blue dress; how dark the colour blue is on the sleeves and how it finishes in a whimsical manner just as the space around Julie is fading away, it’s becoming less and less detailed. The warm yellow colour of the pillow under Julie wonderfully complements the blue of her dress; it’s just a visually pleasing aspect of the watercolour. In the background there some simply sketched plants can be seen.

Julie Manet in 1894

Still, most of the attention in the watercolour is on Julie reading her book. I wonder which book she was reading? Perhaps a fairy tale about a princess trapped in a tower, or a princess waiting for a kiss? Julie herself was like a little Impressionist princess, adored by her mother and always posing for some paintings, but sadly five years after this watercolour was painted Berthe Morisot died at the age of fifty-four. Whenever I gaze at Morisot’s portraits of Julie or think about Julie Manet, I always get overwhelmed by a certain sadness knowing that Morisot died when Julie was just seventeen… The fairytale of Julie’s childhood must have ended at that point. All these paintings and portraits that Morisot made of Julie are the beautiful and last presents from a mother to a daughter and – call me sentimental – but that is what makes these paintings particularly delicate and poignant to me.

Eugene Grasset – Young Girl in the Garden

12 May

“Let it pass; April is over, April is over. There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.”

(F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Sensible Thing)

Eugene Grasset, Young Girl in the Garden, date unknown, watercolour

I recently stumbled upon this gorgeous watercolour by a Swiss turn of the century decorative artist Eugene Grasset (1845-1917) and I was instantly captivated by its lyrical beauty and the ever so slight tinge of melancholy seen in the girl’s downward gaze and the setting sun in the distance, a sense of finality and regrets.

A young brunette in a garden of orange and green tones is casting her gaze down to the pond. She is deep in her thoughts. Spring is passing and the sunset song of the birds speaks of warm summer days which are soon to come; heavy with heat and rich scents of awakened flowers. The lush, elegant garden with its marble staircases and statues brings to mind John Singer Sargent’s vibrant watercolours of the gardens of the Italian villas painted around the same time as Grasset’s watercolour or a little later. The figure of the girl, and the scenery around her and behind her, work in a beautiful harmony; our eye is not distracted by the natural setting of a garden, but the scenery isn’t too simplistic either. Just notice and admire the details on the trees in the background; how lively and wild their branches that stretch towards the heavy orange sunset clouds! With its cascade of statues and flower bushes the scene of a garden acquires a depth which makes the scene more realistic. The girl’s appearance seems to belong to two different ages; at first glance she is the turn of the century young lady, with her dress with slightly puff sleeves and her flowing hair, but also her attire makes her look like a princess from some distant time, from some far-away, enchanted land… Time has stopped; the garish orange sun is captured in its flight, but the tender breeze caressing the trees whispers of changes that are to come. The rosebud of spring is blooming into a summer rose and in this painful transience some things must be left behind. What could I have done differently, or, how fast have the spring days gone by, the young girl seems to be asking herself, in the sunset of a beautiful warm day.

Motives of girls and flowers are common in the art of the La Belle Epoque and indeed, Grasset’s own oeuvre is littered with illustrations that feature a figure of a beautiful girl in a natural setting. Usually, in those kinds of illustrations, everything is so decorative and flowery that it might be hard to tell which is the flower and which – the woman. Visually, this watercolour fits into the same type of paintings, but its mood is more lyrical and it conveys more emotions. It is not emotionally flat and merely decorative, and that is what kept luring me to this watercolour. It speaks to my soul, for sure.

James Tissot – Young Lady In A Boat

9 Jan

James Tissot, Young Lady In A Boat, 1870

James Tissot, the painter of the idle and glamorous lives of the wealthy Parisians, was popular and received critical acclaim in his time but today he is in the shadow of the more revolutionary painters from his time such as Monet or Degas. Tissot was extremenly prolific and left us many, many wonderful genre paintings of people enjoying everyday life; going for walks, sipping tea, going on balls, gossiping, children playing, reading books and lying in a hammock, spending afternoon gliding on boats or enjoing a picnic under a grand old chestnut tree… All of his paintings are very meticulous and detailed and just a joy to gaze at. Tissot put a particular emphasis on the clothing the figures in his paintings are wearing and that is no surprise, for his father was a succesful drapery merchant and his mother designed hats.

My favourite Tissot painting at the moment is “Young Lady In a Boat”, painted in 1870, just a year before Tissot’s departure for London following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. It shows a pensive young woman dressed in a sumptuous white dress with ruffles and a hat with striped ribbons. A fan in her hand. A flower bouquet in front of her and a little pug behind her. I particularly love her pose; she is holding her chin with her hand and gazing into the distance. Her pinkie finger is touching her lip, what a dainty pose. You can see it also in the drawing bellow which is one of the studies for the painting that Tissot made. Is she sad or just bored? Or both. Is she suffering from ennui? The pug on the other hand looks not pensive but perplexed and he certainly adds to the charm of the painting with his humorous face expression, the face which a critic at the time compared to a monkey. The lady’s hat with those striped ribbons and her hair bring to mind the portraits of the Directoire period (1795-1800) and this was no accident, for Tissot had purposefully tried to emulate the styles of the period and this is evident in a few of his paintings from that time period. Directoire period was a glamorous time of frivolity after the terrors of the revolution and perhaps this is why Tissot decided to emulate the style.

James Tissot, Study for Young Lady in a Boat, c.1869–70. Graphite on buff wove paper, 25.3 x 24.3 cm

Tissot’s paintings are really like a dream; beautifully dressed women lazing around in splendid gardens, gliding on boats, sipping tea in warm salons whilst the children are playing hide and seek. These are people, mostly women, that seem to have everything but there is always a hint of sadness in their faces, as if despite having everything they aren’t fully happy. There’s always a sense of something missing from their lives, perhaps they feel the weight of the contraints on them, both of their corsets and of their society, maybe too much idleness brought too little to fight for or desire, maybe they don’t know what they want but just feel a certain void inside. A void that perhaps a little pug could solve.

Andrew Wyeth – Three Master Aground, 29 May 1939

3 Sep

“Set sail in those turquoise days…”

(Echo and the Bunnymen, Turquoise Days)

Andrew Wyeth, Three Master Aground, 29 May 1939, watercolour and pencil on paper

This gloomy watercolour by Andrew Wyeth instantly struck a chord with me because it brought to mind the solitary landscapes of the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich and the moody music of Echo and the Bunnymen’s second album “Heaven Up Here” (1981) which is an all time favourite of mine, and I especially savour it in this time of the year. As someone who is continually seeking the connections between painting and rock music, literature and art, music and literature etc, this is a perfect match in mood, for the sounds of the “Heaven Up Here” transport me to a wet, solitary beach where the sea and the sky meet in a kiss while the dusk is slowly taking over… Wyeth’s watercolour strongly conveys a similar mood, at least to me because the colours are beautifully chosen.

Wyeth, who usually had a penchant for taking an ordinary motif and transforming it into an extraordinary one, took a simple motif of a three master or a ship with three masts and painted a stunning watercolour using a palette of only a few colours, but visually strong and captivating ones. The ship is leaning on its right, the sea waves are strong, they are cradling the ship as if it were a baby in the crib. The nature can easily destroy something man-made, even if it is as big as the ship, and it’s easy to see just how powerless and meaningless the small human figures are compared to the vastness of the sea. The figures here almost appear to be melting into the rest of the scene and they bring to mind the figures in Caspar David Friedrich’s melancholy seascape painting though Wyeth’s watercolour is more dynamic and expressive than meditative and dreamy. The combination of the dark colours and the whimsical, playful way the watercolour seemed to be painting itself creates a contrast that stimulates and excites our eyes.

The liquid and often capricious medium of watercolour is perfect for this kind of a scene because it vividly portrays the sea waves, better than a dry medium of pastel would, for example. When you gaze at these dark and murky waters you know they were painted with water, you can imagine the brush heavy with drops of rich colour hitting the surface of the paper and leaving a rich, dense trace which grows paler as the stroke gets longer… The greedy paper takes in the colour just as the sand on the beach drinks in the water of the sea. I feel that watercolour can translate the mood of melancholy, isolation and gloom better than other mediums. Wyeth was only twenty-two years old when he painted this watercolour; the same age as Echo and the Bunnymen’s singer Ian McCulloch when he sang the lines “set sail in those turquoise days…” from the above mentioned album. In 1937, at the age of twenty, Wyeth had his first one-man exhibition of mostly monochromatic watercolours. Seeing the gorgeous “Three Master Aground” we needn’t be surprised that the exhibition was a huge success and that all the watercolours were sold.

Marianne Stokes – The Queen and the Page

22 Dec

“…the woman is seen as unattainable, the more the desire she has aroused grows, and her Beauty is transfigured.”

Marianne Stokes, The Queen and the Page, 1896, oil on canvas, 101 x 96 cm

Marianne Stokes’ painting “The Queen and the Page” has been haunting me for weeks now. As soon as I read the painting’s title I was, in my imagination, transported to some enchanted, far-away, Medieval fairy tale land, to some white castle with many many narrow towers and spiraling staircases; a castle with knights, troubadours and damsels. The painting has a distinctly Medieval mood which shows Marianne Stokes’ interest in the Pre-Raphaelites. The composition and the colour palette both contribute to the gentle beauty and the bittersweet mood of the painting. The focus is solely on the two figures of the Queen and her Page who are seen walking through a forest. The space around them is painted in soft, tender shades of blue, grey and green, and it looks very dreamy and remote from the stifling life at the court. The woodland, with the tall elegant tree trunks and the mushrooms springing from the ground, is a beautiful setting for the scene.

The figures of the Queen and the Page are elegant and gently elongated, beautifully clad in sumptuous fabric, both are wearing a similar pair of pointy shoes, and their paleness and some sort of frail elegance brings to mind the elegant figures from the fourteenth century illuminations by the Limbourg Brothers. The Page is carrying her train; it’s a sacred duty to him, a privilege to touch the silk train of her dress when the fate is so cruel that he may not touch her lips of soft blonde hair. Without a word being spoken we can feel the mood between the young and beautiful Queen and the blonde Page; there’s a quiet yearning and tenderness in the air. Their faces are especially interesting in conveying the feelings; her downward gaze seems wistful and passively surrendered to her faith, the Page’s eyes glisten with yearning and his cheeks, rosy as rosebuds, speaks of sweetness that mount in his soul while he is breathing the same air as his beloved. But, alas, bittersweet is the tale of their romance!

The inscription written in German in the upper part of the canvas speaks of the story of an old grey-haired King who was married to a young, beautiful Queen, and there was also a Page who had blonde hair and who carried the Queen’s silk train. The Queen and the Page loved each other too much and they both had to die. This vision of love, exceedingly idealised and romantic, tinged with melancholy, tender and – tragical – is typical for the late Medieval age of romance, damsels and troubadours that Marianne Stokes is clearly trying to evoke: “That new romantic code so sweetly celebrated in ‘Le Roman de la Rose’ and the ideal of “courty love” sung by the troubadours governed the relations between the sexes. The lover was expected to show delicate attentions and pay respectful hommage to the lady of his heart. This new culture, worldly no doubt but full of smiling grace, did much to shape the course of the 13th century life.” (Gothic painting, Jacques Dupont)

And here is something very interesting that Umberto Eco says on the same topic in his book “On Beauty”:

…the development of an idea of female Beauty, and of courtly love, in which desire is amplified by prohibition: the Lady fosters in the knight a permanent state of suffering, which he joyfully accepts. This leads to fantasies about a possession forever deferred, in which the more the woman is seen as unattainable, the more the desire she has aroused grows, and her Beauty is transfigured. (…) …all these stories of passion contain the idea that love, apart from the ravishment of the senses, brings unhappiness and remorse in its train. Consequently, as far as regards the interpretation of courtly love in the centuries that followed, the moments of moral weakness (and of erotic success) undoubtedly took second place to the idea of an infinitely protracted round of frustration and desire, in which the dominion the woman acquires over the lover reveals certain masochistic aspects and, the more passion is humiliated, the more it grows.

Marianne Stokes, Aucassin and Nicolette, date unknown

Marianne Stokes (born Preindlsberger) was an Austrian painter who married the British landscape painter Adrian Scott Stokes. They had no children and they were both devoted to their art and travelled Europe extensively. These travels fueled their inspiration and Marianne’s oeuvre, very thematically diverse, reflects this. Painting “The Queen and the Page” is a very beautiful example of Stokes being inspired by the art of the Pre-Raphaelites. Another beautiful and romantic example of this is the painting “Aucassin and Nicolette”.

Film: Jeune & Jolie (2013)

13 Nov

French erotic drama “Young and Beautiful” (Jeune & Jolie), directed by Francois Ozon, is one of my favourite films. The plot revolves around a seventeen year old girl Isabelle (played by Marine Vacth) who loses her virginity whilst at the seaside holiday in the south of France with a German boy Felix. The experience leaves her unsatisfied and she further retreats into her inner world. She ignores Felix and speaks to no one about her feelings. Upon returning to Paris, the school starts again in autumn and everything seems the same as usual, but something inside Isabelle is restless and curious. She starts working as a high class prostitute and meets many strange and interesting clients in luxury hotels. According to Isabelle’s own words, to her it was all “just an experience”. One of her clients, a sixty-three year old rich man called Georges, treats her with a special tenderness and a mutual affection develops between them. On one occasion Georges dies in the act of making love. Isabelle flees the hotel room frightened and sad.

Very soon, her double life and her secrets are discovered by the police and then by her mother and stepfather. Isabelle is forced to go to a therapy and starts pondering on the nature of everything she did. In her own words:  “What I liked was to arrange appointments. Chat online, talk on the phone. Listen to the voices, imagine things. Then go, discover the hotel …not knowing who I would find. It was like a game. At the time I almost felt nothing. But then, when remembered at home or in high school… I wanted to do it again.” The film is very erotic and follows Isabelle’s awakening sensuality and her explorations with sexuality through prostitution which could have ended up as a dangerous experience, but what captivates me the most about the film is Isabelle’s impenetrable inner life, her melancholy and her mysterious aura. From the beginning of the film, it is impossible to pinpoint how exactly Isabelle feels. She is quiet and withdrawn and eerily detached from everything that happens to her; from the loss of her virginity to her experiences in the hotels. She is there physically, but she isn’t really there in other ways. It’s like nothing touches her. When her mother found out about her daughter’s double life and deceits, she is furious and starts hitting Isabelle on two occasions actually, and Isabelle’s reaction is still: nothing. There are tears in her blue-grey eyes, but the reaction is never there. Her detachment is both serene and frightening.

The actress Marine Vacth is gorgeous to gaze at and I think she was a perfect choice for the role. She looks equally beautiful with no make up, her under eye circles and freckles add to her melancholy vibe. And yet, she is enchanting with red lipstick as well. Her appearance in the film matches the double life that she is living; at school she is a quiet, strange girl and her silence is off putting to boys her own age, but in the afternoon she is transformed into a creature of awakened sensuality who does unimaginable things. She is, as the title of the film suggest, young and beautiful. Her beauty and youth are a weapon by which she gains the admiration and desire of the men she meets, but her beauty also serves as a mask which makes her so distant and unreachable, it brings to mind Brancusi’s sculpture “Sleeping Muse” (1910).

I also enjoyed that Rimbaud’s poem “Novel” is used in the film in a scene where Isabelle and her classmates recite it in school classroom and analyse it. The poem’s verse: “No one is serious at seventeen” goes well with Isabelle’s crazy life decisions; she is but a young girl and she doesn’t know what she is doing. It’s a fascinating contrast that Isabelle is shy and quiet in school, but in reality she is living a life more wild and dangerous than any of her classmates. It’s always the quiet ones in the class who are hiding something. Francoise Hardy’s song “L’amour d’un garcon” is also very fitting; it plays as the background on the car ride from the holiday back to Paris, Isabelle is gazing through the window and thinking of everything that has happened to her as Francoise Hardy sings “J’ai bien changé”… and indeed Isabelle has changed and will change even more as the film continues. What I liked the most about the film is that it doesn’t give definite answers, nor does it condemn Isabelle’s behaviour. She never says “I did it because of….” So even we as observers are left with uncertainly. Isabelle cannot even explain her behavior herself.

Henry Kirke White – The Dance Of The Consumptives

26 May

Today I wanted to share some a beautiful and eerie fragment of an unfinished drama called “The Dance of the Consumptives” written by a rather obscure English poet Henry Kirke White (1785-1806) said to have been written n his earlier phase though I am not sure how old he would have been exactly because he died so young as it is. You can read the whole text of this eccentric unfinished drama here.

Henri Le Sidaner, Ronde des jeunes filles, crayon graphite, 1897

These lines specifically have been haunting me for some time now, but now, at last, the perfect imagery came to my mind. The drama is about death arriving dressed as consumption to flush a young girl’s cheek and take her away to the other world. Dancing young girls in drawings of the French painter Henri Le Sidaner perfectly fit the mood of the drama. With their pale attire and fluid, ghostly forms they almost looks like ghostly maidens who fell prey to the consumption and have now arrived to welcome a new soul into their eerie, ghostly circle dance:

In the dismal night air dress’d,
I will creep into her breast:
Flush her cheek, and bleach her skin,
And feed on the vital fire within.
Lover, do not trust her eyes,—
When they sparkle most, she dies!
Mother, do not trust her breath,—
Comfort she will breathe in death!
Father, do not strive to save her,—
She is mine, and I must have her!
The coffin must be her bridal bed!
The winding-sheet must wrap her head;
The whispering winds must o’er her sigh,
For soon in the grave the maid must lie:
The worm it will riot
On heavenly diet,
When death has deflower’d her eye.

Henri Le Sidaner, La Ronde, c 1900