La coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) by Germaine Dulac, 1926. Black and white film, 31:44.
This film was denounced by Antonin Artaud and the surrealists as betraying the true spirit of their movement so some think of this a German Expressionism. Artaud was in fact the man who wrote the scenario upon which the film is based and he disapproved of Dulac’s treatment.
Images of Catholicism, identity, corporeality and desire are so intricately interwoven into the subtext of The Seashell and the Clergyman that it is impossible to distinguish the boundaries between them. In particular, images of Catholicism prevail throughout the film and are constantly undermined, reflecting Artaud’s contempt of organised religion. With indifference, Artaud abolishes accepted notions of Catholicism and unleashes the repressed sexual desires that lie beneath. He presents us with the image of a priest (played by Alex Allin), an image that connotes celibacy and pious dignity. However, this physical image is subverted when the repressed sexual frustrations of the priest are brought to the surface. His obsession takes the form of a beautiful woman (played by Génica Athanasiou) who appears to him throughout the film like a mirage. According to Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, “it is not a “real” female character […] but an image of the woman, as phantom, as specter, as shadow of desire”. The priest’s search for this ethereal image drives the narrative forwards and his growing fanaticism informs the pace of the film.
The film was originally silent although many composers and groups have performed their own scores.