L’Etoile de Mer

Film Review by Dean Duncan Oct 20, 2014

This is quite good! It complicates that old saw about how photography freed painting from the burden of representation. And what if the photographer wasn’t interested in documentation? What if he, too, wanted to paint? Well, he might make a film like this one. There’s some kind of distorting filter in front of the lens, so that the resultant images, apart from an occasional teasingly undistorted shot, looks like late Van Gogh, or maybe Edvard Munch-like. In a film context this visual trope serves to push subjectivity past its usually effaced place.

Who’s subjectivity, by the way? As L’Etoile de Mer proceeds we get a few vivid Parisian or dockside shots. We also get a still life composition or two. Again, Man Ray and his collaborators are painters, and photographers, and cultural provocateurs, maybe even activists. They’re surrealist jokers too. This could be how a starfish sees things. (I also wonder: could L’Etoile de Mer be a very early Jean Painléve satire?) There’s lots of gnomic discontinuity in the titles, lots of non-sequiturs and puns. We touched upon subjectivity already, but these elements also bring the act of viewing to the forefront, and the spectator into the equation. In addition to its modern imagery, L’Etoile de Mere is also, partly, an exercise in perception, and a study of its workings. It’s a modest little miniature, but it still covers a lot of very rich ground.