A Forest Pt. 6: Poison Ivies (Crimes of Passion)



In 1929 André Breton tried  his hand, together with Albert Valentin,  at a screenplay based on Barbey d’Aurevilly’s short story Le Rideau cramoisi (The Crimson Curtain).Nothing came out of this project as they couldn’t find a producer. In 1953 Alexandre Astruc succeeded in making an adaptation of Le Rideau Cramoisi for Anatole Dauman’s company Argos Films. It was released as part of a double feature with the similarly themed Mina de Vanghel under the title Two Crimes of Love.  Apart from minor quibbles concerning the faithfulness to its source materials Breton was quite excited to see these stories come to the screen.[1]

In any case an exceptional opportunity: two female figures, who are among the most exciting what the genre has advanced up till  now, are happening to be incarnated in quick succession: Mina de Vanghel and the heroine of The Crimson Curtain. Never more beautiful nor more dangerous creatures have been set before our eyes, carrying with them all the shadows and all the scents of the jungle. Endowed with that inner fire that  was given to them by Stendhal and Barbey,  they make the classic screen “vamp” appear insubstantial, rendering her harmless and insignificant.
A Famous Gulp of Poison – Médium N° 7, Mai 1953


The enigmatic female protagonists of the above mentioned stories represent a curious blend of femme enfant and femme fatale. This kind of ambiguity, in which “the symbols of Good and Evil are entwined and equivocally confused”[2] is  also typical for the figures in Gustave Moreau’s paintings. About these Breton  once said that when he discovered them at the age of sixteen, they would forever influence his “idea of love”.

Moreau Salome

Breton’s attraction for this special kind of ambiguity led him to welcome the screen appearance of some even more dangerous creatures. Nico Papatakis[3] made a film based on the case of the Papin sisters, two French maids, who brutally killed their employers. If one of Breton’s concerns would be that Astruc’s Le Rideau Cramoisi wasn’t scabrous enough, this couldn’t be a problem with Les Abysses aka The Depth, as it provoked an outrage a the Cannes Festival in 1963.

With Les Abysses, we survey the ferocity of human passions. Under their ugly aprons, Francine[4] and Colette Bergé are beautiful like lightning. Les Abysses, by virtue of  the Emerald Tablet,  is one of the peaks of  film  art, and in my eyes, of all today’s art.

Le Monde, 19 April 1963

1 Certainly encouraged by Breton’s review, Dauman offered him to write the commentary for a documentary on the series of tapestries La Dame à la licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn). Breton turned the project down for the reason that Jean Cocteau shortly before made a ballet of it.  The film in question was presumably Jean Claude Sée’s Le Mystère de la Licorne. A letter of Breton on the topic is reprinted in Jacques Gerber: Souvenir-Ecran.
2 Mario Praz in The Romantic Agony.
3 Interestingly, from 1951 – 1954 Papatakis was married to Anouk Aimée, the female lead of Le Rideau Cramoisi.
4  After attending Les Abysses in Cannes, Georges Franju chose Francine Bergé to play Diana Monti, the female villain in nuns disguise, in his 1963 remake of Feuillade’s Judex.

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