Friday, August 20, 2010

My favourite dream sequence

There has been a lot of amused discussion on Inception in Finland. Viewers have a hard time in being convinced by a multi-layered dream film which is so chaste (sexually). But I think each person's dreams are so fundamentally different that even Inception-style dreams may be possible.

Having seen Le Testament d'Orphée, another multi-layered and playful dream film, yesterday, I started to think which would be for me the most compelling dream sequence in the history of the cinema.

For me the choice is easy although I cannot explain why. It comes from a film which I did not highly appreciate during its first run, Luis Buñuel's Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie. Buñuel was already a favourite director of mine, but I thought then that he might have lost his sense of urgency.

Much later I revisited the film and liked it more. Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie is yet another multi-layered dream film, full of irony and satire. For me the most effective sequence is the sergeant's dream, which is a digression without any obvious connection to the rest of the film.

"I went off in search of my mother, but the street was full of shadows, and no one responded". The sergeant takes an evening walk on a dark and narrow street (the nocturnal walls seem endlessly high...) and talks with old friends who he after a while realizes are long since dead. The shop room where the friends went a moment ago turns out to have been uninhabited for years. He does meet his mother who died young but when he returns to the street from the deserted shop room she has disappeared again.

Buñuel stages the dream plainly, and the sergeant's account is matter-of-fact. The sound of the bell is a characteristic Buñuel marker that we have entered the realm of dreams.

Somehow in the late films of Cocteau and Buñuel I believe one can still sense the profound impact made by Fritz Lang's Der müde Tod on both of them (the infinitely high wall of death and the voyage beyond). Common to all is a fleeting sense of a childhood memory of death approaching during a fever dream (Cocteau has written about his childhood dream of walking by the high wall; in Lang's film it became the wall of death). In Lang and Buñuel there is the presence or absence of mother: in Cocteau, there is "la mère maladroite".

P.S. 13 March 2011. A dear friend of ours died three days ago having fought a fast-spreading and terminal cancer. We lit a candle and shared a moment of silence and next day listened to Libertango. I was reminded of Grace Jones and her A One Man Show with the Jean Cocteau influences in the Private Life and Libertango numbers, including the fight against the wind from beyond along the endlessly high wall.

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