Women Filmmakers: Cécile Decugis

Cécile Decugis (1934-2017) has never really been a prominent film name, which is a shame. She may have only made a handful of short and medium-length films as director (which I like well enough), but she makes it to my Women Filmmakers’ feature for her more prominent work as a film editor. She worked on some of the most important French Nouvelle Vague films of the 1950s and 1960s, films which were known particularly for their innovative editing (usually ascribed to their more famous directors). These films include many of the works of Éric Rohmer (she worked with him through to the 1980s), as well as a few other minor works you may not have heard of like À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959) and Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959, along with Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte, another editor, of Martinican heritage). Her activism on behalf of Algerian independence began in the late-1950s with her first short film, and ended up costing her two years in prison from 1960-62. Her own films were often about people in a certain existential confusion, it seems to me, and I got a chance to see them at the invaluable Il Cinema Ritrovato festival (though I only caught half of the full programme).

Kids waiting to be fed

La Distribution de pain (1957/2011) [Tunisia/France]

Originally made in 1957 on behalf of the newly-independent Tunisians for the UN, this was re-edited in 2011 with the director adding a voiceover narration. It shows people displaced by regional conflicts along the Algerian-Tunisian border, and their desperate need, as well as highlighting these places as a breeding ground for those fighting for Algerian independence also (a cause Decugis became very much committed to).

Director/Writer/Cinematographer Cécile Decugis; Length 14 minutes.
Seen at Cinema Lumière (Sala Scorsese), Bologna, Thursday 28 June 2018.

Edith Scob at a table

Le Passage (1965)

Sometimes it feels like a 30-minute running time is to the short film form as three hours is to the feature film, but then again maybe it’s just the way this particular one plays out. This strange, quiet film is about a woman (Édith Scob) returning from a long stay in a hospital (or a sanatorium perhaps), going back to the seaside and to a man (Antoine Vitez) with whom she walks the streets together in silence. She has thoughts that seem to turn to suicide, and struggles with some kind of existential malaise. At length they disappear into the crowds on the street, and there the film ends.

Director/Writer Cécile Decugis; Cinematographer Pierre Lhomme; Starring Édith Scob, Antoine Vitez; Length 30 minutes.
Seen at Cinema Lumière (Sala Scorsese), Bologna, Thursday 28 June 2018.

Italie aller retour (1984)

Another half-hour film, this one focused on a woman meeting up after many years with an old friend and going on a family holiday with him and his two boys to the Italian coast. Slowly it becomes clear that he is not someone she wants to be on holiday with, as he makes small throwaway remarks about her inadequate mothering skills (by criticising her son eating with his mouth open, and then the way she offers him her toothbrush). He is also enormously grumpy in the mornings, as well as a flirt with other women. Sure, Clotilde (Anne de Broca) tells the kids some oddly inappropriate stories, but she can hardly be said to be bad mother, and Richard (Patrick Karl)’s insinuations clearly start to get on her nerves. It plays out in this quiet, observant way; without words, it is clear how she starts to feel, and that leads to the denouement. Being set by the seaside, it seems to evoke something of Rohmer (unsurprising perhaps given the director’s work with him), and oh the fashions are just ridiculously 1980s… it’s like looking back at an old family photo album.

Director/Writer Cécile Decugis; Cinematographer Olivier Guéneau; Starring Anne De Broca, Patrick Karl; Length 33 minutes.
Seen at Cinema Lumière (Sala Scorsese), Bologna, Thursday 28 June 2018.

Une soirée perdue (1985)

A short story set in a hotel in Nancy, as a woman (Marie Bunel) is separated from her boyfriend and calls him. He is watching a film on TV and so she looks for a TV to watch it on too, but it’s broken so she heads to the dining room and meets an Irish man (Geoffrey Carey) and chats to him. When she takes him up to her room, her boyfriend calls and recounts the film’s plot in extensive and spoiler-laden detail, whereupon the Irish chap leaves hastily. She shrugs and decides to read a book, since there’s now no other entertainment available. It’s odd the way this unfolds, with a sort of quiet desperation to it; after all, the Irish guy (though his accent seems more British) has very boring stories. The small bit of interest — a couple having a row in the dining room — in the end all seems part of this tale about very bored people.

Director/Writer Cécile Decugis; Cinematographer Olivier Guéneau; Starring Marie Bunel, Geoffrey Carey; Length 23 minutes.
Seen at Cinema Lumière (Sala Scorsese), Bologna, Thursday 28 June 2018.


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