Retrospective: Harry Kümel
| DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS / LES LÈVRES ROUGES
Belgium, France, West Germany; 1971; 87 min
Belgium, France, West Germany; 1971; 125 min
Harry Kümel master class will take place on Thursday, July 13th at 20.00h at the Main Square.
Harry Kümel (b. 1940) is one of the most eminent Flemish directors. Outside Belgium, he is widely known mainly on account of his two masterpieces, Daughters of Darkness (1971) and Malpertuis (1971). Although loved by the fans of horror and fantasy all around the world for his contribution to the genre cinema, he's never been adhering to its limitations. Throughout his films, we can see him transcending the boundaries of genre cinema, and, on the other hand, due to his very personal approach to the art of film making, his work cannot be placed within the framework of the standard mainstream production.
Most of the scripts for Kümel's films are based on renowned literary works, some of them he himself adapted for the screen and also co-wrote the original screenplay for the Daughters of Darkness. He did gain official recognition for his work, notably for Monsieur Hawarden (1968), his feature début (Gold Hugo for the Best Feature at the Chicago Film Festival), followed by Malpertius that was awarded at the Sitges Festival and nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Festival, and in 1992 by Eline Vere, that took two of the Joseph Plateau Awards (Best Belgian Film and Best Belgian Director). Some very famous actors and actresses appeared in Harry Kümel's films: Delphine Seyrig (Daughters of Darkness), Orson Welles, Susan Hampshire, Mathieu Carrière and Sylvie Vartan (Malpertius), as well as Michael York (Eline Vere). Even Rumplestiltskin (1973), a student film project helmed by Harry Kümel, had Rutger Hauer in the leading role.
Harry Kümel is the ultimate trickster, his universe is filled with bizarre characters and unexpected twists, we never know what strange creature might be lurking somewhere in the shadows. His vampires are no ordinary vampires, and a person that appears to be human to our eye may prove to be some mythological creature, perhaps even god or goddess. Women in Kümel's films are portrayed as characters harbouring some dark secrets (like in Monsieur Hawarden and Eline Vere), as otherworldly, utterly inscrutable beings (Daughters of Darkness, Malpertuis), and as "femme fatale" types, preying on unsuspecting males, who are either unable or unwilling to resist their charms. We meet the latter type at the very beginning of Paradise Lost (1978), during the wildly paced opening sequence of frenetic love making, as well as in The Secrets of Love (1986) and the six episodes of the TV series Série rose (1990), all of them being delightful, slightly perverse tales based on the writings by the masters of decadent erotica.
We could say that in each of the films made by Harry Kümel we can find something of Malpertuis (1971), his most complex work. Malpertuis is a mansion unlike any other mansion, time and space have no meaning for those who roam its winding corridors, there is no way of discerning dream from reality. It's a world apart, unfathomable and without end, offering no escape. Likewise, much of Kümel's work is not meant to be "understood", especially films like Malpertuis or The Arrival of Joachim Stiller (1976), you are simply supposed to let go and take a ride, knowing nothing of its goal. And just like Jan, who enters the doomed house at the beginning of Malpertuis, the spectator is unable to resist the grand master, Harry Kümel, luring us to follow him into the labyrinth of his imagination.