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In director and actress Marie-Louise Iribe’s 1931 film Le Roi des Aulnes (The Erl King), a young boy (Raymond Lapon) is dying in his father’s (Otto Gebühr) arms while riding through the woods. Desperately, the father clings to his son, keeping him warm and reassuring him everything will be okay. (SYJ: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Media Intern Sophia Y. Jin
We start by seeing a “man” (Otto Gebühr) with a “boy” (Raymond Lapon) in his arms, trotting on a limp horse in a field. They stop by a small hamlet to either treat the horse or get a new one. While in this hamlet, the two come to a house where the sick child is soothed by a “maid” (Mary Costes), who sings a verse about the “Elf King” (Joë Hamman). Eventually, the father acquires a horse to continue their journey on to the next town. Although the reason behind it is still unclear to the audience, they must ride through the woods at night to arrive in the town as soon as possible.
Upon entering the deep dark woods, the Elf King appears and notices the child and sends his wood nymphs to entice the boy to join them. Throughout the journey, the child cries out to his father that he’s scared, that there are fairies, and the Elf King is coming for him. But his father continues to ride on, telling his son that it’s just the trees or the lightning, or just his imagination. Afraid of losing his child, he speeds up.
Director Marie-Louise Iribe started her film career in 1913 as an actress in Faded Flowers… Loved Heart. Her directorial debut was in the film Hara-Kiri where she co-directed with Henri Debain in 1928. Marie-Louise Iribe’s Le Roi des Aulnes is based on a very famous poem by Johann Goethe. The music throughout the film is built from the infamous Der Erlkönig by Franz Schubert. Almost every classical singer will know this particular lieder and its intense story. The piano accompaniment mimics the horse riding through the night, and each character has its own musical motif employed in the film. The most different motif is when the Elf King is talking. The key changes to a major key and the melody is more mischievous. When tenors sing it, they change the character in their voice to make it more evil and enticing. In the film, the Elf King sends his nymphs to dance and prance around the child as he tries to speed up the process of the child’s death.
It’s exciting to me how much film has changed within the past century. The films tended to lean on music more than speech for added expression, which meant that the actors would have to use exaggerated facial expressions than modern films. What is also fascinating to see is the difference in editing. Even if the editing is not as advanced, the film’s point still comes across to the viewer.
Photos: Stills from Le Roi des Aulnes
Photo Credits: BFI Video
Does Le Roi des Aulnes pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
No, as it talks about the son, the father, and the Elf King.