Directed by Man Ray


Premiering at Cannes last year, LE RETOUR DE LA RAISON (RETURN TO REASON) is an anthology of four Man Ray short films, with original music by SQÜRL (Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan).  Included are the films, played in order: L'étoile de mer (1928), Emak-Bakia (1927), Le retour à la raison (1923) and Les Mystères du Château du Dé (1929).

The best of the lot and the first of Man Ray’s films is Le Retour à la raison (French for Return to Reason), a 1923 2- minute short film directed by Man Ray. It consists of animated textures, rayographs and the torso of Kiki of Montparnasse.  The film features a small segment with Ray's work Dancer/Danger.  The film is described as follows:  consisting of moving geometric designs, intercut with distorted night shots of a merry-go-round, then moving three-dimensional shapes, and closing with the play of bars of light on a woman's nude torso. It was an experiment in abstract expressionism that inspired other directors.

The first is L’etoile de mer the starfish.  It begins and ends, of course, one can never be sure of an affair.  In the end, the female appears in a mirror with the word 'belle', which shatters. The starfish is shown kept in a jar and is an object of fascination, which is compared to the body of a female.  The images of human beings are generally blurry.

Emak Bakia shows elements of fluid mechanical motion in parts, rotating artifacts showing his ideas of everyday objects being extended and rendered useless. Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Prin) is shown driving a car in a scene through a town. Towards the middle of the film, Jacques Rigaut appears dressed in female clothing and make-up. Later in the film a caption appears: "La raison de cette extravagance" (the reason for this extravagance). The film then cuts to a car arriving and a passenger leaving with a briefcase entering a building, opening the case to reveal men's shirt collars which he proceeds to tear in half. The collars are then used as a focus for the film, rotating through double exposures.

The last of the anthology is Les Mystères du Château du Dé translated in English to Mysteries of the Castle of the Dice).  It depicts a pair of travellers setting off from Paris and travelling to the Villa Noailles in Hyères.  At 27 minutes, the film was the longest that Man Ray directed.  The film opens with a night scene of two masked individuals at a cafe. They decide their actions on the role of dice. A throw of dice will never abolish chance (based on a line from a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé).   The film also introduces to four intruders who are in turn resigning their fate to that of the dice.  Upon their throw, they depart for the indoor swimming pool at the villa and entertain the viewer with various diving and gymnastic movements, including a woman juggling underwater and exercising with medicine balls. Actors explore the confines of the villa, until they eventually retire, fading from the screen.  More moving shots of the villas externally until two more travellers arrive at the location, again playing for chance within the garden. They proceed to stay overnight, bringing the film to an abrupt end.

An excellent anthology of experimental films, LE RETOUR DE LA RAISON is a curious and intriguing blast from the past.

LE RETOUR DE LA RAISON (RETURN TO REASON) opens at the TIFF Lightbox on June 12th.


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