(photo courtesy Jo)
The hunched, black-clothed form of Mademoiselle Reitz shuffles up to the piano, gives a haughty little bow and plops down on the bench. Her hands are not beautiful; they hang over the keys like frozen buzzards and then plunge into the first ecstatic notes sound, Chopin’s Nocturnes, Opus 55, No. 1. The frame finds Mae’s/Edna’s face in the dining room and holds close. She glances to the left where her husband Leoncé sits, nods and smiles tightly, then turns back toward the camera.
Lang, alone with her laptop after a brief uploading delay, grips the arms of her chair while she watches yesterday’s takes. It had been a long day of emphatic gesticulation punctuated by many tedious interruptions and this is the first time she has sat down and allowed herself to submit to the vague awareness that has been awakening inside of her like a fetus, the inkling that something exquisite and magical is being captured on film. Now, alone in her hotel room, face-to-face with tragically beautiful Edna Pontellier, she can allow herself to know.
This shot, an extended seven-second close hold on Edna’s face, was a tricky one. As the piano notes come together, Edna’s features flinch and shift, bloom, and then at the apex of the first slow musical rise something snaps inside her and the tears start to fall. The camera holds on her face as she pulls it together and as she loses it again at the next crescendo, when her eyes roll to the ceiling. Rapture. Lang knew the first take was perfect but of course they did it twice more, just to be sure. Her hand trembles as she scrolls back and plays it again. Every piano note lights Edna’s face with new understanding, awareness that rises and rests, climbs and plateaus, an orgasmic fugue. Lang cannot find an explanation for how a woman so young would know how to make tears look transformative instead of pitiful. Look, at the end of the take, how her deep breaths correspond perfectly with the pianissimo trills….
Last night in her hotel room she had wanted to cry like that after the phone call from their rented house on St. Charles Avenue. Or she wished she wanted to cry. The crying will come later, when the film is almost over.
When Rosemary and Elle arrived in Louisiana, Lang had been delayed filming at the beach in Grand Isle. On the phone, Lang could hear Eleanor in the background, running through the rooms, exclaiming upon the little fireplaces and the push-button light switches. Rosemary was talking on and on about something Lang could not quite hear, alien words, something about the color of the cork flooring for the Topanga house and something about Elle’s annual checkup. Lang tried to make appreciative noises, then Elle got on the phone with a thousand questions: What color are crayfish straight from the water and do they make good pets? Will they have time to go fishing in a bateau in a bayou? Did Lang know that the little room near the kitchen downstairs was once the servants’ quarters? Is voodoo for real and how much would it cost to cast a love spell on somebody? Their voices had been so far away and the topics so remote, Lang sat on the edge of the bed gripping the phone to her ear until a call from Jake came through and she was grateful for the excuse to hang up.
It’s always this way: she can’t bear to leave them but then she goes and forgets all about them. As soon as she’s out of earshot, the shadow of the person she used to be rushes forward to embrace her. She hates to go but then she’s so relieved to see the world with her own eyes again, to be reunited with her imagination. She can’t make a film when they’re watching because the film floods her eyes and saturates her imagination and there’s no room for anything else. She doesn’t even carry a picture of them in her wallet—their faces, even if glimpsed only in passing while she pays a bill, are too distracting. She sits there pretending to listen to their voices on the phone, feeling her soul tugged by the shadow creature sitting just outside the door; a huge, hairy, sulking giant waiting for her to sneak away so they can run wild like dogs under the moon.
Lang checks the shots they will cut in: A shot of Leoncé to Edna’s right, flexing his jaw; one of Robert on her left, offering a handkerchief; gaslights flickering; extreme close-ups of Mademoiselle Reitz’s hands caressing the keys, her ugly face (eyes closed, grinning like a madwoman). From the second take there is a wonderful close-up of Edna biting her knuckle. Lang chuckles and shakes as the waves of emotion and awareness wash over her. She has everything she needs. It’s perfect.