The First Love
Mari Terashima’s Hatsukoi was made in 1989 while she was studying under Japanese experimental filmmaking giant Toshio Matsumoto at the Kyoto University of Art & Design. The haunting film, made without any dialogue, is full of gothic symbol- ism: candles, tarot cards, thorny red roses and white birds shot in close-up. The faint outline of a narrative follows four characters: a pure young girl in a red dress; the older, mustachioed gentleman in a wheelchair with whom she lives; a boy in a sailor outfit who gazes towards the girl with loving eyes; and an old woman who spreads tarot cards.
Correspondence translation by Kei Masuda
The film’s title, which translates to ‘First Love’, clues us in to the tension which drives the interactions between the characters. The boy looks at the girl from afar with a looking glass, and his voyeuristic perspective becomes the viewer’s as well. The first time we see the girl, the small, white bird is perching on her hand. She is full of idyllic wonder sitting by a lilypad-covered fountain in an old palace square. We come to witness the strange and ambiguous relationship she has with the older man, who we might interpret as a father or older relative. In an especially confounding scene, he lifts the top off of a coffin to discover her sleeping sweetly inside.
From here, the film spins wildly out of control, with acts of violence, masked phantoms and a circle of fire among the increasingly sinister revelations. Terashima crafts a beautiful and tortured world within the space of twenty minutes, and the film would cement her signature avant-garde take on narrative, with gestural performance, costumes, production design and props playing a major role in her personal filmmaking style. — Herb Shellenberger
Un rêve plus long que la nuit
Un rêve plus long que la nuit (A Dream Longer Than the Night) is French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s fairytale trip through the female erotic psyche. Most known for her brightly-coloured monumental sculptures and her series of Tirs assemblage paintings—in which she would shoot at the artwork with a gun—Saint Phalle was also an accomplished filmmaker. Her two feature films form a curious diptych externalising hidden and complex impulses of female sexuality. She upheld her convictions by not only writing and directing, but importantly also playing in front of the camera as well.
Originally titled Camelia and the Dragon, Un rêve begins with an introduction to the young Camelia, who throughout the story will search for the meaning of life, death and love. We follow Camelia through a fairytale dreamland in which she meets a dragon, a beautiful bird-man and a black witch who grants her wish to become a grown-up. Princess Camelia is now forced to reckon with the increasingly strange and terrifying World of the Grown-Ups. She discovers several unexpected settings: an absurd metal factory where objects are made only to be destroyed; a perverse Boarding School for Young Ladies; and on a battlefield in an all-out war, replete with phallus cannons and fired by a lecherous general.
The film is a stew of ideas and images bubbling up from Saint Phalle’s creative well. She was aided by many friends, patrons and fellow artists—including her companion Jean Tinguely, whose enormous walk-in statue La Tête serves as a central setting of the film. For all its strangeness, sensuality and wonder, Saint Phalle’s film has been little seen since the 1970s. The magical film provides deeper evidence that fairytale was a central theme across the artist’s work. —Herb Shellenberger