“The Devil’s Cinema”: from Jean Epstein’s Theory to Robert Eggers’ Films

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The stories of The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019), made by the American director Robert Eggers, revolve around the conflict between natural landscapes and characters, mediated by the empty spaces of human dwellings.
The principles underlying the artistic representation of this conflict go back to the early sound era, when the interrelations between humans and the onscreen space changed significantly.
An emptiness while localizing the sound (the source of which was off-screen) became a threat to the character. This issue was given a lot of attention in the so called ‘Devil’s Cinema’ (Le cinèma de diable) concept developed by the French director and film theorist Jean Epstein.
Based on the critique of Eggers’ films, the author views his work in terms of Epstein’s Breton period (films he made in Brittany: Finis Terræ (1929), Mor vran (1931), L'Or des mers (1932)) and explores the relationship between the dramatic functions of space and motifs of evil within the context of his theory of photogenie.
Following Epstein, Eggers treats chaos as ideal cinematic material, and his films reconstruct the prelinguistic logic of a dream or a spell. The Witch and The Lighthouse deal with the conflict between human and non-human consciousness, with the struggle between human rationality and cinematic irrational logic.
A landscape is chaos capable of generating phantoms. A human dwelling is an attempt to build a spatially embodied narrative logic and thus protect oneself from evil. But this attempt leads to the appearance of voids through which evil penetrates into the human world. It is the human space that undergoes dramatic changes: it is disintegrating as the characters are nearing the defeat from evil and the very nature of cinema. As a result, the characters acquire a non-human identity.

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Shevchenko-Rosliakova Alina

Graduate student of the Department of Dramaturgy and Film Studies in History of Arts


THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION FEDERAL STATE BUDGET EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION St. Petersburg State University of Film and Television
, 13 Pravdy str., Saint Petersburg, 191119, Russia

Author for correspondence.
Email: linnasileny@mail.ru

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5240-7780

References

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