Cinema in 1922 is still in infancy, and as such, certain films in this list are examples of pure ‘firsts’. Less akin to the cinematic technique advancement of Birth of a Nation and more the thematic importance of Within Our Gates, The Smiling Madame Beudet is the first Feminist movie. The basics of the plot revolve around the eponymous heroine, Madame Beudet, trapped in her home and a loveless marriage to a brute.
However, complex plot is not the aim of the game in this piece. Based on a play of the same name, the director Germaine Dulac instead operates on a sensory level, delving into the mind of Madame Beudet with startling invention. This is a French impressionistic film, inspired by the Germans in examples such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but rather than expressing emotion and states of mind through crooked sets from a nightmare, Dulac expresses inner turmoil and flights of fantasy with unique camera angles, lighting and editing. Throughout the sadly short running time, Dulac impresses with exciting flourishes of the cinematic repertoire to date.
Dulac also has a keen eye for his actors, never diminishing or losing their performance in a wash of spectacle. Each serves a purpose to support one another. Madame Beudet, played brilliantly by Germaine Dermoz, is one of sensitivity, expressing utter weariness in the face of her brutish husband and her fantasies of a kind man saving her. However, the strength and particular importance of this piece results from Madame Beudet evoking a spectrum of our emotion. Early, she earns our sympathy, but soon pushes aside the helplessness to combat the situation and live a life she, and therefore all women, deserve. It is a daring subject matter for the time, Women’s rights were non-existent and particularly bad across Europe as campaigning from Women’s Suffrage was in process. Expectations of women were limiting and often humiliating, as is the case seen in this film.
To confront such a blatant wrong deservedly places this film on the list, however Dulac proves this film more than just a statement with his excellent directorial skills.
Madame Beudet is alone in her home, her mind plays tricks on her as the guilt of loading her husband’s gun rips her conscience to shreds. In a nightmarish image, Monsieur Beudet (Alexandre Arquillière) climbs through a window in slow monition, his face contorted in a villainous and spiteful grin as he comes for her. This particular image is startling, a beautifully captured and horrifying image which both illustrates the nature of the husband and perspective of the wife.