FILENDOUCE EST INSAISISSABLE
(L’insaisissable Filendouce) (L’insequestrabile Filavento)
? (FR 1912)
Filendouce est insaisissable is a successful variation on a theme which forms a cinematic trope that still has lost none of its charm today: cops chasing robbers, where, as always, it is the latter who capture the sympathy and identification of the audience. As is often the case, in this film the thief, Filendouce (in French, “filer en douce” means to make a stylish escape), is the dynamic element, the driving force of the cinematic action, which by its very nature can never sink into a complacent portrayal of the established order.
Already the protagonist of at least one other film, Les Exploits de Filendouce (1908), someone who at first appears to be an ordinary bicycle thief almost right away displays remarkable gifts: he can make himself invisible, leave a doppelgänger behind him to confound his pursuers, climb walls and ford rivers in a stolen car. If a thief is by definition an element that disrupts the system of shared social rules, in this case he goes so far as to defy the laws of physics. Here the mad rhythms of “chase” films and the inventive anarchy of trick photography find a particularly happy synthesis.
Prey to the 20th-century obsession with speed (in a crescendo, from bicycles to racing cars), Filendouce steals not so much for the loot itself as for his love of adrenalin and the fun of mocking the two poor custodians of law and order who set off in pursuit – entirely unthreatening adversaries who, although an improbably moralistic ending has them as the victors, can oppose their adversary with nothing more than tenacity and their impressive regulation moustaches.
The virtuosity invested in the film’s trick photography – evident above all in the phantom bicycle moving with nonchalance through the city streets – is placed at the service of an art of the chase that may be defined as Baroque. There’s no need for the thief to magically put on racing overalls before getting into the car he steals, nor to drive it literally up a wall to escape his two pursuers as they struggle to make any headway on a single bike. It is the pleasure taken in a well-done action (here taking the form of the highest potential of disruption of established rules and stimulation of amazement) that guides the feats of the patrols of “the chased” in early cinema.
Some people have claimed to recognize the intrepid Filendouce as the great André Deed. As far as we’re concerned the jury’s still out – when the thief regales the audience with a smile his jaw seems a bit too prominent. This will be a chance to use the big screen in an attempt to identify a character who to the end remains elusive; or to use the curious term in the Italian title of the 28mm copy, “insequestrabile” – unseizable. And even though in the end the cops catch him, the audience knows that he only needs a second to escape and start running again.
prod: Pathé Frères (Nizza).
copia/copy: DCP, 3’15” (da/from 28mm, 43 m., 18 fps; 35mm orig. 85 m.); didascalie mancanti/intertitles missing.
fonte/source: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino; Cinémathèque de Toulouse; Cinémathèque de Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Limoges.