Defect, the (1911)
Alternate Title: “La Tare”
This longer story by Louis Feuillade (feature-length, if we accept the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s liberal definition), is quite somber and serious, although also interestingly different from similar morality films from the US at the time. Anna (Renée Carl, who we’ve seen in a number of these Gaumont movies now) is a “flower girl” working at a brasserie frequented by “loose women” and making time with a dandyish medical student. She is unhappy in her job, but a real doctor strays in and offers her work at a hospital for seriously ill children and old people. She writes her boyfriend a goodbye letter and travels South, taking up her work with determined efficiency and a good bedside manner. Years later, when the old doctor dies, she becomes the director of the hospital. And then her old lover hears of her success and tries to chisel her for a job. When she refuses, he writes to a newspaper of her “sordid past.” The board, which at first appears willing to defend her against slander, decides to dismiss her when she owns up to it all. She can’t get a job without references, and is on the verge of suicide, but she collapses back into her chair and a final intertitle tells us she “considers the Far East — where people stricken by plague need nurses to liberate them from death.”
Now, as this is a bit longer, I want to take a bit of time to discuss it. First, it is interesting that the actress here is not made up to be at all glamorous or attractive, she is quite plain-looking and rarely, if ever, smiles or appears happy. Second, although Feuillade mostly keeps this one inside the cramped, stagey-sets of his studio, we do get some beautiful shots of Paris and the hospital grounds, and a shot of a train racing South that put me in mind of Lumiere, except that the angle was rather more interesting. While we’re on the subject of photography, there’s also an interesting tracking shot between two of the cramped sets at the employment office – nothing groundbreaking, but camera movement is so rare in 1911 that it stood out. It’s quite slow and deliberate, matching the mood of tragic destiny that prevails. Third, I was fascinated, both by the apparent sympathy for the heroine shown in the narrative, and by the fact that having worked in a “brasserie” would disqualify a competent nurse from hospital work. Wikipedia tells me that “brasserie” means “brewery,” although the translated intertitles once used the term “dance hall,” perhaps trying to make the negative connotation clear to Americans. We don’t see any dancing, though, just what looks like a fairly congenial restaurant, with mostly female wait staff and mostly male clientele, both quite conservatively dressed and not touching one another. I admit, I don’t know much about the turn-of-the-century mores of French dining establishments, but it seems like a pretty judgmental position, perhaps the French equivalent of the gossips fussing about Mary Pickford’s “New York Hat.” Here, however, no one gets any comeuppance and the tragedy is taken almost to its final extreme, aside from the fact that the last intertitle tells us that Anna is truly redeemed and will continue her good works.
Director: Louis Feuillade
Run Time: 41 Min
You can watch it for free: here.