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Mnilmontant

In the article the Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Grade
written by Tom Gunning, the author brings up a concept of the cinema of attraction
whose primary quality lies in its ability to show something (Fernand Lger) which he thinks
the cinema before 1906 did quite a good job achieving such attraction. By establishing
heterogeneous contacts with the spectators, a cinema displays its visibility, willing to
rupture its self-enclosed fictional world. Believing that the cinema is a way of presenting a
series of views to audiences by using its illusory power and exoticism rather than telling
stories, Gunning highly evaluated the artificial stimulus and direct stimulation in the early
films. The cinema of attraction shows a transform of the interaction between spectators
and films in which the audiences convert from a stupid voyeur in a traditional theatre to a
participant involved in an exhibitionist cinema. Gunning also said that the cinema of
attraction does not disappear with the dominance of narrative, but rather goes
underground, both into certain avant-grade practices and as a component of narrative
films.
I will use the best known and most impressive film of an old-fashioned filmmaker, an
auteur of the silent era1, Dimitri Kirsanoffs Mnilmontant as an example to analyze how
film itself as an attraction uses visual stimulation rather than narrative to communicate with
audiences and how the director take advantage of the esthetics of astonishment and a
visual pleasure that emerges from it.
The film opens with an unexplained murder. The two daughters of the murdered couple
thus had to depend on each other. They moved to Mnilmontant, one of the humblest
neighbourhoods in Paris where they both fell in love with a young man. However this love
triangle led the sisters different endings: the older sister became a prostitute while the
younger sister though keep her dignity became a homeless single mother. In the final
moment, they reconciled and return to their first job as workers in a sweatshop,and the
young man was killed in an obscure brawl, as mystery as the murder at the beginning.
An Elliptical Tale
The fragments of self-sufficient narratives, evocations and elliptical narratives act as
attractions,consist of the comprehensive story. Both the beginning(the sequence in which
the sisters parents were brutally murdered ) and the end(the young seducer killed by a
strange woman) seem autonomous from the rest of the film. However according to the
cinema of attraction they do not need to do anything with the whole narrative, in fact the
beginning itself, the violence sequences in rapid montage, served as a direct visual
stimulation quickly catches spectators eyes under the condition that the spectators lacks
any bearings, spatial or temporal. As for the end which looks like a reflection of the
beginning arouse audiences curiosity and an aftertaste to the film, leaving margins for
imagination.
Kirsanoff likes to emphasize the subjective-tale condition of the film by frequently breaking
its chronological order with memories and evocations of the past that also work towards
creating its rather melancholic tone.2 After the night when the younger sister gave herself
to the young Parisian, she leaved the hotel room the coming morning and headed to a
1

Demeure, Jacques: "Eloge de Dimitri Kirsanoff" in Positif No. 22, March 1957, p. 27.

Santiago Rubn de Celis, The Paradoxes of Dimitri Kirsanoff: 'Menilmontant' Within the Avant-Garde
Tradition, EXPERIMENTAL CONVERSATIONS, issue 6:winter 2010
2

river side where she evoked her happy childhood. Still the flashbacks do not have much to
do with the narrative. Same as a couple of evocations that happened when the younger
sister suffering the starvation and when she was tending to commit suicide. But it is
through these scenes we see her confusion of her existence, mental exhaustion and
despair to future. The filmmaker made it possible for the spectator to see reality directly
through the girls eyes which psychologically stimulate audiences resonance.
Elliptical tale is another representative characteristics in this films narrative. The
filmmaker left some important plot events unshown instead he only gives the necessary
information by which the film seeks a significant dynamism, in Kirsonffs own words a
cadence similar to that in music. That rhythm, coming from the editing, is what produces
the visual poetry". For instant, not until the end when the younger sister encountered her
older sister with a reluctant facial expression did we know that they had been separated for
a long time. Also the moment when the younger sister found herself being pregnant could
have been highly dramatic but the filmmaker use a an ellipsis to go from a shot in which
she, now abandoned by her seducer, discovers him dating her sister to a close shot of a
door with the word Maternity' on it.3 The film breaks the narrative into irregular pieces,
some of which attract the audience by visual stimulation, the other that needs the
spectators involved, create an immersive experience.
The Esthetics of Astonishment
The cinema of attraction directly access to audiences attention through exciting
spectacles such as full nudity in erotic films, trick films, magical illusions etc. providing
visual pleasure and arising the spectators curiosities. In Mnilmontant
the cinematic language plays an important role of creating the stimulation. For example the
depiction of Pariss streets, documentary and avant-garde techniques such as out of focus
effects, accelerated movement, superimpositions, double exposures, etc, are masterfully
combined to present a dynamic vision of the city.4 (figure 1) Besides, when the older sister
was waiting her younger sister back home,with full of jealousy, we simultaneously watches
multiple dreamlike superimpositions of the clock, the naked body of the younger girl and
the street views, exposing what was happening at the same time.

figure1

Santiago Rubn de Celis, The Paradoxes of Dimitri Kirsanoff: 'Menilmontant' Within the Avant-Garde
Tradition, EXPERIMENTAL CONVERSATIONS, issue 6:winter 2010
3

ditto.

When it comes to the turning points of the plot such as when the younger sister witnessed
her parents bodies, when she caught her sister secretly seeing the young man, when she
accepted the almsgiving from the elderly with full of sorrows, we see screens of her closeup. A delicate doll-like face with beads-clear eyes revealing the deepest emotion in her
heart.(figure 2) In a way, the actresss face in fact stimulate lots of visual pleasure for the
spectators,especially when the character is undergoing disasters that might earn sympathy
from audiences. Kirsanoff's use of it confirms that "the close-up makes the face the purest
material of affection".5

figure2
Every change in the film history implies a change in its address to the spectator, and each
period constructs its spectators in a new way.6 Mnilmontant in my view, is one of the
masterpieces of avant-grade filmmaking that includes the shinning points from the cinema
of attraction by using its agile camera work and non-linear creative way of showing
sequences. The cinema of attraction would never vanish, but rather being a cell in the
blood of future cinemas.

Deleuze, Gilles: Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, London, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.,
2005.
5

Santiago Rubn de Celis, The Paradoxes of Dimitri Kirsanoff: 'Menilmontant' Within the Avant-Garde
Tradition, EXPERIMENTAL CONVERSATIONS, issue 6:winter 2010
6

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