Jul 25, 2013
While my girlfriend and I love the early films of Swiss auteur Daniel Schmid (Schatten der Engel aka Shadow of Angels, Violanta), especially his masterful second feature-length effort La Paloma (1974) starring Fassbinder’s ex-wife Ingrid Caven, we were both absolutely repelled by his brazenly bitter and precariously pessimistic colonial romance Hécate, maîtresse de la nuit (1982) aka Hécate starring American fashion model turned actress Lauren Hutton (The Gambler, Once Bitten) and the always pompous and unpleasant Frenchman Bernard Giraudeau (Passione d'amore, François Ozon’s odious Fassbinder adaption Water Drops on Burning Rocks). In fact, to simply say the word “Hécate” is enough to consume my typically calm and mild-mannered girlfriend with sheer and utter disgust, which is certainly a sentiment I can relate too, even if I found myself more intrigued by Schmid’s Franco-Swiss film on my second viewing of it due to its historical and philosophical themes regarding the capitulation of Europa as a result of the Second World and rise of a new form of barbaric collectivism as inspired by far-left anti-European sentiment. Having the grand distinction of being Schmid’s most ‘explicitly erotic’ work (even if it does not show much in the way of bare flesh) and set in an unmentioned French-British North African colony, Hécate totally lacks the signature high-camp melodrama and decided aesthetic decadence that made the director's first three films, Tonight or Never (1972), La Paloma, and Shadow of Angels, idiosyncratic masterpieces. A sort of exotic European film noir featuring an apathetic femme fatale who wants nothing in return for her succubus ways aside from destroying the soul of any man that has the misfortune of coming under her spell, and set in a pre-apocalyptic Arabian colonial ghetto as opposed to an American urban ghetto, Hécate is ultimately an unpleasantly poetic celluloid allegory for the decline of Occidental power and influence disguised as one of the most disastrous romances ever depicted on the silverscreen. Based on the novel Hécate et ses chiens written by French Nazi collaborator/Vichy government supporter Paul Morand—a novelist inspired by the Faustian philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Oswald Spengler, as well as the racial theories of frog aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau (whose ideas also inspired Richard Wagner and the Bayreuth circle)—Hécate, unlike similarly themed Hollywood works, makes no attempt to glorify the death of the west nor the so-called ‘noble savage,’ but instead portrays it as a sort of softcore doomsday scenario leading up to a sort of neo-barbarism of global proportions. As a man who suavely satired the far-left 1968 student movement in his debut feature Tonight or Never and always displayed a deep admiration for traditional kultur, Schmid certainly expressed a sense of quasi-Spenglerian cultural pessimism with Hécate that is no less emotionally grating than his discernible disdain for heterosexual relationships.
It is the1930s and French diplomat Julien Rochelle (Bernard Giraudeau)—a successful and attractive but otherwise mediocre man—spots a mysterious beautiful blonde woman while lounging at the French embassy in Morocco. After Julien asks a consul at the embassy “what kind of woman is that?,” he learns she is “just a woman looking out into the night.” Of course, little does Julien realize that he will soon be spending a number of sleepless nights in a North African colony searching for the mysterious woman. As Julien narrates at the beginning of Hécate, “The story of Clothilde happened a very long time ago. When I say time…I don’t mean the number of years…I mean that since that time the world has changed. France and England no longer live at the slow pace of horses. France and her Treasury no longer represent the greatest bank in the world. America is arming Russia. Germany will devour everything, even her own downfall. In those days…When was it, already?” Upon arriving at the North African colony, Julien almost immediately starts a steamy love affair with a certain married woman named Clothilde de Watteville (Lauren Hutton), whose husband is a ‘strange French officer’ working as a mercenary in Siberia. Of course, little does gentleman Julien realize that he will be in store for the same sort of internal pain and heartbreak as Clothilde’s husband, a totally broken man who cannot live with or without his wife, but has chosen self-imposed exile and opium to distance himself from his seemingly magical and always wanton witch of a wife. While Julien and Clothilde’s relationship is seemingly immaculate due to its exclusively erotic nature, the French diplomat begins to overstep his bounds when he begins to declare his passionate love for the married femme fatale, which naturally pushes her away. Of course, Julien’s romantic relationship with Clothilde is not the only thing crumbling in the North African colony as the colony itself is falling due to rebel attacks inspired by a hatred for European imperialism. As French consul Vaudable (Jean Bouise), tells Julien regarding the state of the world and the foreboding future of the Occident, “One sees horrors everywhere. Everywhere where order reigns, everywhere where disorder reigns. Occasionally, in the center of Europe, in the center of certain Democracies, it is possible to find a fragrance of tolerance. A conquest against nature. Barbarism is a permanent threat. We can forget the ideas of the French Eighteenth Century. Liberty and individuality are two luxuries that are dying out.” Despite being a French diplomat, Julien cares more about permanently possessing Clothilde than whether or not Europe's empires fall. Every time Clothilde disappears from his presence, Julien wanders on foot both day and night and when he finally catches her during one of these exotic Arabian nights, he forces himself upon her, thus demonstrating the dissolution of his mind as a diplomat-turned-degenerate. When jaded Julien later discovers an androgynous Arab boy hanging outside of Clothilde’s door, he displays his dominance in a rather deranged manner by capturing the brown boy, locking him in his lover’s room, and sadistically sodomizing the uniquely unlucky and unwilling victim. While Julien is not arrested, he is forced to leave his post and his title and pension are revoked as a result of the sodomy scandal. Forced to take the first black boat to France by the French Foreign Office, Julien is forced away from his sweet succubus Clothilde, but he ultimately becomes a successful ambassador anyway despite being a lovelorn lunatic who perniciously pillaged a young untermensch boy.
Still consumed with undying love for the ever so cold and callous ice queen Clothilde as a pathetic perennial cuckold of sorts, Julien uses his power as an ambassador to visit his lost lover’s husband in Siberia despite the fact a violent war is waging there. Upon a superficial glance, it is quite apparent Le colonel de Watteville (Gérard Desarthe) is a badly broken man who is addicted to ‘Cocteau’s kick’ and when Julien arrives to speak with him, it comes as somewhat of a shock to the viewer that he is not angered by the fact that the melancholy married man is standing face-to-face with the man fellow that sexually defiled his wife. The Colonel lets Julien know that, “You know…we’re both in the same boat, hoping every day that she’s coming and praying always for her not to come. Here, I’m paying my debt. I am not cured. I’m still waiting.” Not long after his visit with the Colonel, Julien ends up running into Clothilde by happenstance at a party in Switzerland and tells her he went to visit her husband, remarking, “I am like him. I was never cured.” After declaring his love for Clothilde for the last time, he is met with the disappointing response, “Words always come too late…or too soon.”
In an interview with Swiss filmmaker Rudolph Jula, director Daniel Schmid provided the following insights regarding Hécate, “A lot of things come together at the end of the world. The novel Hécate was written by Paul Morand, the character was based on his wife Helene, whom I met when she was a very old woman. She was supposed to be eighty-five when she died, and then they found out she was ninety-seven. She’d altered her passport so often that even her husband didn’t know. Hécate is a film about projection, possession, jealousy and logical destruction.” And, indeed, an irrational obsession with projection, possession, and jealously lead Hécate protagonist Julien, an otherwise dull and uninteresting man, to degenerate into a one-man train wreck who will do anything, including raping a teenage Arab boy, to demonstrate his debauched and ultimately demented love for a woman who is only interested in emotionless sex and flaunting her almost witchlike power over and destruction of said men.
A patently pessimistic example of ‘love conquers all’ (except for seemingly sociopathtic femme fatales, of course!), Hécate is undoubtedly the closest thing to a French colonialist take on Gone with the Wind (1939), because, like the Hollywood epic, Schmid’s film also depicts not only the failure of a great love affair but also the decline of a civilization, which has ultimately led to the mass-minded and Americanized world we have today where such things as class and culture have been turned into a mockery of the way things once were in the past. The fact that Hécate is based on a novel written by an unrepentant fascist elitist and aristocrat of the soul makes it all the more interesting of a film because, unlike the communist (and Hollywood) writers, who actively sought to destroy traditional Europe and European values via savage class warfare and portray all things classically Occidental as innately evil, most so-called ‘far-rightists’ hope to preserve ancient culture and traditions and rid their nations of vice and decadence, which the protagonist of Schmid’s film ironically ultimately succumbs to. Undoubtedly, to describe Hécate—a film named of the Greek goddess of magic and protection who later came to represent the goddess of darkness, night, and the underworld and a sort of femme fatale—as a great ‘downer’ of a film would be an understatement as few other films have the power to depress, anger, and agitate like Schmid’s dark colonial romance. Of course, with their celebrated cuckold epic The Constant Gardener (2005)—a film about a British cuck of a diplomat in Kenya who makes the major mistake of falling in love with a hysterical ‘humanitarian’ activist, thus leading to both of their demises—Hollywood has popularized what Schmid did long ago with Hécate. The major difference between both films is that while Hécate portrays the dissolution of European power as a bad thing that will inevitably lead to a sort of rise of Bolshevik-esque neo-barbarism on a global level, The Constant Gardener absurdly portrays sacrificing one’s life to disease-ridden ‘noble savages’ as the most morally noble and virtuous thing a person can do, which would have totally repulsed Hécate novelist Paul Morand. Of course, The Constant Gardener is a not only a glaring symptom of Occidental decline and the horrendous and culturally homogenizing Hollywoodization of the world, but also the reign of the untermensch and the total transvaluation of all values, which was not only dreaded by Morand, Nietzsche, and Spengler, but also Hécate director Daniel Schmid, who portrays the darkness and chaos engulfing Europe during the first half of the Twentieth century as a salacious and statuesque mistress of the night.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 8:57 PM
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