Ecstasy (Gustav Machatý / Czechoslovakia-Austria, 1933):

The title is Anaïs Nin's escape from realism, "I believe in intoxication... No more walls." Gustav Machatý begins with a little joke taken up by Hitchcock in Spellbound, the "welcome" doormat at odds with the uncooperative lock, just the mixed signs for an unsatisfactory honeymoon. The sequence pulses to the anxiety and anticipation of the young wife (Hedy Lamarr) pacing around the bedroom still in bridal veils, she's left to fiddle with the wedding ring while the husband (Zvonimir Rogoz) won't even take off his slippers. It all comes down to how you treat a bee: Hubby swats it mindlessly, the strapping construction foreman (Aribert Mog) gently helps it pollinate a flower, thus the heroine's humid blossoming. "I've never understood you," sighs her father (Leopold Kramer), every man's lament. Crisis and nature, so it goes in Machatý's shuddering scandale, the prism of desire. The unfulfilled beauty rides to the lake and the camera pushes past leaves and branches barely in time to catch the pale, naked figure splashing into waters consumed by dazzling sunlight. Her search continues into the sultry night not cooled by lemonade, out of the bourgeois mansion and into the proletarian flat for the orgasm of her life. (Monumental close-ups of heaving bosoms, parting lips and a dazed head lolling on a pillow provide "the censor's filthy synecdoche," as Beckett would say.) The interrupted dance and the rippling climax, Lawrence's flaring stables and Dovzhenko's singing pickaxes, an Ovidian strain that imagines the illicit lovers' equine side and turns the bespectacled cuckold into a hissing locomotive. Virtually a silent symphony, punctuated with still-life inserts (figurines, necklaces, flypaper) yet continuously vibrating with its protagonist's sense of carnal discovery. Tourneur's Cat People, Malle's Les Amants and Borowczyk's The Beast all flood from here, "it's just the heat." Cinematography by Hans Androschin and Jan Stallich. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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