Friday, December 11, 2009

"I AM the Puppets!"


I was talking to my friend Phil earlier this evening and trying to describe to him the 1953 film Lili (starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer) that I can remember seeing on Australian television when I was just a child in the 1970s. Perhaps you’re familiar with this delightful and, at times, surreal film. If so I’m sure you’d agree with me that it’s quite an enchanting work of cinema.

Wikipedia notes that Lili tells the tale of “a touchingly naïve French girl, whose emotional relationship with a carnival puppeteer [named Paul] is conducted through the medium of four puppets. The screenplay by Helen Deutsch was adapted from ‘The Man Who Hated People,’ a short story by Paul Gallico which appeared in the October 28, 1950 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Following the film’s success, Gallico expanded his story into a 1954 novella entitled The Love of Seven Dolls.”

Lili tells a beautiful story – one that never fails to move me deeply. I think this is largely to do with what it has to say about the creative (and healing) ways the heart finds to express itself – even when our intellect resists and falters due to fear, bitterness, societal expectations, and/or inexperience.

Anyway, I told Phil I’d find and share with him a YouTube clip of Lili - and decided to do so via The Wild Reed. (Can you believe it, but Lili is yet to be released on DVD!) In this particular scene Lili (played by Leslie Caron) says goodbye to the puppets that have become her friends. In fact, they’ve become so real to her that she forgets that it’s the aloof and embittered Paul (Mel Ferrer) who is operating them and using them to express facets of his true feelings, his true self. For Paul, you see, has fallen in love with Lili but cannot express this love except through his puppets.

Following is how Dan Callahan not only describes the handsome Mel Ferrer as Paul the puppeteer, but how Lili and Paul’s story ends.

With his full mouth and hurt eyes, Ferrer seems to need looking after, though there’s a hint of Joseph Cotten-like truculence in his somewhat harsh voice, and the moment when he slaps Lili is upsetting. But a . . . dream sequence, which allows Lili to work out her feelings for her Svengali, assures us of their compatibility as a couple. Ferrer and Caron manage to create an all-encompassing tenderness together: they embrace, slowly taking simple steps, his hands constantly caressing her, until he lets himself go and frenziedly kisses her all over her face and [the] camera swoons up into an overhead shot. Caron does a back bend over his knee, and Ferrer sinks his head down to kiss her torso. Thus, romanticism and eroticism happily blend in movement.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Ode to Lili - Dan Callahan (Bright Lights Film Journal, February 2006).
Lili - the original 1953 trailer.

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