The Hierarchies of Love (1906)
Alternate Title: La Hiérachie dan L’amour
This very simple short from Alice Guy makes fun of military hierarchies and their social effects. Although it involves several different camera set-ups, the essential story is told chronologically, in long-shot, with minimal editing.
We see a woman walking in a park with a basket. A soldier (poilu) sees her and greets her cordially. He offers to carry her basket. They stroll for a while until they meet an officer. The officer chides the soldier for being lax in his duties and returns the basket to the woman. The solider leaves, reluctantly, and then the officer offers his arm to the lady (though he does not carry the basket). They stroll until he stops to run behind a metal screen briefly. While he’s back there, another officer comes along and escort the woman to a bench. This new officer suddenly pretends not to be with her when a very elderly, obviously high-ranking officer walks up. The older officer sends the young one on some chore, and sits next to the lady, showing her his stripes and even daring a peck on the cheek before the end.
It’s a pretty simple joke, and it only works because the movie is so short. Still, it has some interesting aspects. As is often the case in French films of the time (especially those of Guy), the woman in this film is not what we think of as a striking beauty, but a slightly heavyset woman with ample hips and a fairly ordinary face (to the degree that we see her face in long-shot). The point doesn’t seem to be that she is exceptionally desirable, but that she happens to be available, and the military men are undiscriminating. Also, by my standards, it is actually a bit hard to distinguish the difference in rank by looking at the uniforms of these men. Even the lowest-ranking fellow at the beginning had epaulettes, the officers all carry swords, and none have really decorative uniforms, although they do clearly age, which suggests that the hierarchies of love may not really work in the woman’s favor. Finally, there’s the bit where the first officer stops to run behind that screen – I think he’s relieving himself into a gutter or something, but I’ve never seen an arrangement like this in a park. I hesitate to suggest it was common in Paris or Europe at the time, but presumably whatever is going on would have been understood by audiences then.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville
Run Time: 2 Min, 30 secs
You can watch it for free: here.