Friday, October 16, 2009

Fantasy: La fontaine d'Aréthuse (1936, Dimitri Kirsanoff)

La fontaine d'Aréthuse (1936)
France, 8 min
Directed by: Dimitri Kirsanoff

Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) wrote his three Mity (Myths) classical pieces in 1915, in a collaboration with violinist Pawel Kochañski, for whom the pieces were originally conceived. I don't know anything about classical music, but apparently this work was revolutionary, described as "impressionistic" and "a new style, a new mode of expression for the violin." The three pieces were "La Fontaine d'Aréthuse," "Narcisse" and "Dryades et Pan," of which the first is the most well-known. To my knowledge, there's no specific story that is supposed to go with La Fontaine d'Aréthuse," but here Dimitri Kirsanoff has apparently attempted to devise his own. Fitting the images to the music, but also striving to tell a story, La Fontaine d'Aréthuse (1936) follows his similarly music-orientated short film of the previous year, the wonderful Les Berceaux / The Cradles. Like the latter, it was also photographed by Boris Kaufman, who would later achieve success in Hollywood as a cinematographer.

La Fontaine d'Aréthuse (1936) opens with credits over shimmering images of water, somewhat reminiscent of Ralph Steiner's H2O (1929). After this, the music takes prominence, and we see a pianist and violinist beginning the classical piece. That Kirsanoff even bothered to show the musicians emphasises the importance he placed on the music itself, re-enforcing that this piece wasn't merely chosen at random to suit the images. "La Fontaine d'Aréthuse" opens with what has been described as a "shimmering wash of sound in the piano, octave leaps in the left hand passing above and below repeated chords in the right," a tune which apparently suggests the splashing waters of a fountain. The story "told" by the music involves a naked water goddess on the river shore (no Production Code being enforced in France!), who is pursued by a Tarzan-like hunter, before disappearing into thin air to join her water once again. Pleasant, and recommended, viewing.


  1. Bonjour! Andrew,
    Unfortunately, I have never watched La Fontaine d'Aréthuse (The Fountain of Arethusa) before, but after reading your review I plan to seek this film along with the other two titles..."Narcisse" and "Dryades et Pan" out to watch too!
    There was no Production Code being enforced in France?...Indeed!
    Andrew, once again,
    Thanks, for sharing!
    DeeDee ;-D

  2. Hi DeeDee,
    I'm no expert in music, but I believe that "Narcisse" and "Dryades et Pan" are simply musical pieces by Karol Szymanowski. To my knowledge, those two have never been adapted into film.

    I do, however, also recommend another Dimitri Kirsanoff film: Les Berceaux (1935) [to which I link in my review]

  3. Andrew said,"but I believe that "Narcisse" and "Dryades et Pan" are simply musical pieces by Karol Szymanowski."
    Hi! Andrew...
    Thanks for pointing out the corrections to me...
    I most definitely will seek out the 1935 film Les Berceaux by Dimitri Kirsanoff.(That is if it's available...for renting or purchasing.) usual.
    DeeDee ;-d


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