Apr 5, 2009

Jean Genet's Un Chant D'Amour


Un Chant d'Amour (A Song of Love), completed in 1950, was the only short directed by subversive gay French writer and petty criminal Jean Genet. Cinematic poetic genius Jean Cocteau lent his marvelous cinematography skills to this short film. After watching Un Chant d'Amour, Cocteau’s contribution to the film is more than obvious for anyone that has seen Cocteau’s underappreciated Orphic Trilogy. Un Chant d'Amour is like what would have happened if Jean Cocteau just happened to direct an artsy porn flick. There is no doubt that Cocteau helped Jean Genet immensely in the production of the film. For being Genet’s first film, it is quite professionally done and the shot composition is well thought out to say the least. A collaboration between Jean Genet and Jean Cocteau was a very good idea that actually panned out.


From what I know of Jean Genet, he was obsessed with homosexual violent criminals. The prisoners featured in Un Chant d'Amour are way more tamed than the sadistic sailors featured in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s adaptation of Jean Genet’s novel Querelle. The short film, however, is a film about caged perversion and a homoerotic freakshow of the criminal type. Although made over half a century ago, Un Chant d'Amour is the type of film that would offend even the most “liberal” of hipsters. I also have to admit that the short is one of the boldest, if not the boldest, film I have ever seen to come out of France. Nowadays, Marxist French New Wavers like Jean-Luc Godard are often thought of as the greatest and most important directors to ever come out of France. Personally, I have always felt Jean Cocteau to be France’s greatest and purest filmmaker. Cocteau, foremost a poet, looked at filmmaking from a much different perspective than most filmmakers. Jean Genet’s Un Chant d'Amour certainly follows in Cocteau’s tradition of fantastic cinematic dreams.


Un Chant d'Amour also features some elements that may offend cultural Marxist types. Two of the prisoners featured in the short are obviously an Algerian and another being a Negro. These prisoners are obviously the products of French colonialism. I don’t believe it would be to far-fetched for someone to interpret the prisoners featured in Un Chant d'Amour as colonial sex slaves used for the sexual enjoyment of French authority. The security guard featured in the short certainly enjoys fondling his gun and shoving it into an Algerians mouth as it were his phallic. The prison guard is a paid voyeur that gets to enjoy a jigaboo doing a disturbing erotic jungle dance and other prisoners slapping his erection against the cement wall of his prison cell. Un Chant d'Amour is not the type of film that the producers of Brokeback Mountain would want the American public to see.

Un Chant d'Amour does have one serious flaw. The short lacks a score which is very detrimental considering the film features no dialogue. Knowing how the score that was later added to Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon greatly improved the film, makes me realize that someone should really create a complimentary score for Un Chant d'Amour. With a score, the short quite possibly become one of the top ten short films ever made. Despite the lack of score, Un Chant d'Amour is a film of undeniable poet power that transfers the viewer into a world that they probably don’t want to be in.


Apparently, director Jean Genet disowned Un Chant d'Amour which I find somewhat irrational. The short is no doubt a masterpiece that had been hidden from the world for decades. Upon it’s release, the French government had the film banned and the US version was highly edited. I assume that one of the reasons he may have disowned the film is that it wasn’t very successful due to it being banned and not being seen by the eyes of true cinephiles worldwide. Now Un Chant d'Amour is available in an uncut format so that it can finally receive the recognition that it no doubt deserves.


-Ty E

1 comment:

Kip said...

A must see film poetic