The Actress and the Poet

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Dan Sallitt

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Nov 16, 2009, 10:17:17 PM11/16/09
to NaruseRetro, meke...@kerpan.com
An earlier thread on this film is now closed:

http://groups.google.com/group/naruseretro/browse_thread/thread/bd6ffec4150c43cd

THE ACTRESS AND THE POET was not an ideal project for Naruse: Ryuji
Nagami's script mandates a fairly straightforward comedy of
nonconformism and antisocial behavior, and also tends to lean too hard
on its comic contrivances. (The film is based on a novel by Minoru
Nakano, who also wrote the play on which WIFE! BE LIKE A ROSE was
based - but in that case Naruse adapted.) Most of the film is low-key
and digressive, and Naruse does some nice, relaxed character work with
the supporting players, a few of whom are suspended between comic
relief and villainy. Interestingly, even though the project is not
set up for a Naruse multilayered climax, Naruse takes care with the
grading and the emphatic flow of the film's last movement: he draws
out the climactic domestic quarrel, uses editing and point of view to
create an unexpected detachment from the protagonists during the
action, and nurtures the stillness that follows the battle. All this
effort is wasted on a commonplace reaffirmation of the protagonists'
marriage - but still, a characteristic aura of mystery permeates the
last act, even if it is ultimately dispelled by the pat scripting.

The open-air shots of the terrain around the ramshackle neighborhood
where the story is set are quite attractive, with ghostly trolley cars
traversing the background during transition shots. Now that Naruse's
entire 1935 output has been subtitled in English, we can be amazed
that he was able to throw off two relative failures - this and the
somewhat more interesting FIVE MEN IN THE CIRCUS - and also create
THREE SISTERS WITH MAIDEN HEARTS, WIFE! BE LIKE A ROSE, and THE GIRL
IN THE RUMOR, all in twelve months' time.

(A quick SPOILER in response to Michael Kerpan's post in the previous
thread on this film: the subtitles on the version I saw indicate that
the double suicide in the film does not succeed.)
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