Director: Jackie Raynal
By Marilyn Ferdinand
The French New Wave may be the most famous movement in cinema, but there are seminal forces from this movement—as well as in other corners of French film of the 1960s—that time, film tastes, and sexism have pushed into the shadows. One of them, film editor/director/actress Jackie Raynal, who edited films by Chabrol, Godard, and Rohmer, produced a startling experimental film called Deux Fois as part of the Zanzibar group—a score of young filmmakers given strings-free financing by philanthropist and feminist Sylvina Boissonnas. Deux Fois is both an obvious and extremely challenging film that can be viewed over and over without truly penetrating its “secrets.” As I would find out, not even Raynal, who attended the film’s screening at the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival this past weekend, seemed exactly certain of her motives.
The 63-minute, B&W film opens with Raynal stuffing a meal hurriedly into her face while shifting her gaze around the veranda on which she’s seated, directly at the camera, and at an unseen companion. At the end of this somewhat nerve-wracking vignette, she tells us what we are about to see and then says the film will result in the end of meaning. Don’t bother to catalog the scenes as she describes them because not all of them occur. I’ll deal with the end of meaning later.
We are treated to a number of mainly unrelated vignettes thereafter. In one, Raynal enters a room, goes behind a table on which sit a number of cameras. She picks up one and goes offscreen. She returns, puts the camera back on the table, picks up another one and a light bulb, and goes offscreen again. She returns, replaces the objects where they were, and picks up a mirror. She moves it to reflect light into our eyes. This sequence is repeated three times.
In an outdoor sequence, Raynal walks along a dirt path, a very long scarf trailing around her neck and down between her legs. She is seen in a medium shot moving horizontally and then moves toward the camera in a closer shot. She trips over the scarf and out of the frame. This sequence is repeated twice.
Another sequence shows her with Francisco Viader, a handsome Spaniard she met in Barcelona, talking intimately, and they kiss each other on the eyebrow. A later sequence shows Viader, shirtless and framed by what looks like a piece of kraft paper, apparently making love to someone below the horizon of the paper, occasionally looking up to smile into and primp for the camera, and then returning his focus to his companion.
In perhaps the most daringly funny sequence, Raynal stands in the upstage left corner of a room wearing nothing but a pair of black pantyhose. A man identified only as Oscar sits downstage right, scowling. Raynal seems in torment, painful expressions and jerky movements building into a growing frenzy. Her hand moves toward her groin. A moment of hesitation, and then it becomes very clear that she has to urinate. Oscar suddenly moves out of the frame and sticks his face directly in the lens, completely obscuring Raynal. When he moves out of the frame again, she is kneeling on the floor with her head down. She straightens up and a look of relief—and a puddle—appear. Her almost total lack of modesty in this sequence shocked viewers at the time, who vented their hostility on Raynal everywhere the film was shown. It perhaps doesn’t occur to them that they likely were enjoying the view of her naked breasts, but that this voyeurism is as over-the-line as watching her pee, the act of which certainly must have given her a sense of relief and pleasure.
Today, audiences have seen it all, so a mainly nude woman urinating barely raises an eyebrow. That is not to say, however, that Raynal’s film seems tame. Although they may have focused on the specific acts in the film, what challenged viewers then is what challenges them now—they cannot rely on Raynal to transmit the “right” meaning of the film to them—hence, the end of meaning she declared as the “purpose” of the film. Human beings like to be told stories; that is the foundation for so many of our pursuits. Without an identifiable story, or frame as it is commonly called now, we must come up with one of our own or feel alienated from the world we are inhabiting. This almost Brechtian distance certainly can account for the chilly reception Deux Fois did and does receive from some people.
Raynal does seem to try to give us something to hang onto. She has one sequence in which she appears to be asleep, but wakes up several times to write down what we presume to be a dream. Then she enacts the dream—the purchase of soap—several times. This is almost a linked narrative, but in the sleeping sequences, a telltale trail of cigarette smoke invades a corner of the frame, letting us know that the set-up of the story of sleeping and dreaming is completely artificial. The act of watching, which we normally would do unself-consciously in a movie theatre, is brought to our attention by the unseen smoker watching Raynal portray an untrue moment. We are not allowed at virtually any time in this film to feel comfortable watching other people perform for our psychological benefit.
There also is a specifically feminine point of view to this film, which also may account for the venom directed at Raynal when it first came on the scene. Women are watched—constantly. The struggle for feminists to end the objectification of women stems from the incredible discomfort and constraints this practice impose. When Raynal shines the mirror into our eyes, it does communicate to a small degree that it is painful to have a light pointed on one all the time. At the same time, the loving regard the camera pays to the sexually exciting Viader allows women in the audience the freedom of carnal observation, but puts men in a position to identify with the feeling of objectification.
It was exciting to meet this pioneer feminist filmmaker in one of my favorite venues, the LaSalle Bank Cinema, which normally opens its doors only on Saturday nights to show films, cartoons, and shorts from the silent and classic movie eras that are normally hard to view. In this sense, Deux Fois was right at home. Raynal did not really recall what she was trying to accomplish with the film; she planned the shots, she said, but my impression was that she was somewhat impulsive and improvisational, moved internally to make certain choices. She told us she meant the film to be a love letter to her boyfriend in Paris, but ended up with something different when she found herself filming it with a new boyfriend in Barcelona. She talked about her feelings of inferiority upon coming to Paris from the south of France, betraying her “lower” origins in her Southern accent. I imagine these feelings may have informed the atmosphere of Deux Fois. Now, many years after she laid her body and her psyche bare, Raynal is more comfortable with herself and therefore less connected to this youthful work, but still a bold woman who said “yes” to the opportunities that came her way. Good for her, and good for us.