Russian emigré Dimitri Kirsanoff’s alternative titled La mort du cerf and Une chasse à courre (A Hunt), from France, is a post-Second World War study of a traditional hunt. The pursuit of a stag finds a cross-cutting parallel in the felling of a tree in the forest. Both activities represent an environmental assault; on one level, they are of course unrelated, separate, distinct, but on another level they acquire a dreamy causality: the elimination of the tree shrinks the stag’s habitat, dismantling a part of its protection and helping to clear the path of its hunters’ sight in pursuit of it. This is a brilliant 12-minute black-and-white film.
During the hunt, for which the hunters are elegantly dressed as though on inward display for one another, a hideous example of upper-class social incest, we catch glimpses of the prey in long-shot. The stag thus becomes a dream-figure, the reality of which becomes indistinct as the hunters glut on themselves as the only reality their warped perception allows. These decadents are everything to themselves; the animal is nothing to them except insofar as it occasions their show of brute strength. The dreamy long-shots of their quarry are eventually juxtaposed with the stone-cold closeup of the bagged carcass.
What overkill. This one lovely, delicate creature is hunted down by the ritualistically rehearsed army of hunters accompanied by a platoon of dogs, their tails upright like bayonets and wagging. It is a “mass murder” where the “mass” refers to the “humans” and dogs rather than to the number of victims. The “mass murder” is also gratuitous: killing for leisure and pleasure. Given our identification with the victim, what we see bankrupts the hunters of their humanity and confers this valuation, as metaphor, on the animal instead. —Dennis Grunes
Dimitri Kirsanoff (Russian: Дими́трий Кирса́нов) (6 March 1899 – 11 February 1957) was an early filmmaker, considered part of the French Impressionist movement in film. He is known for his inexpensively made experimental films.
Kirsanoff was born Markus David Sussmanovitch Kaplan (Маркус Давид Зусманович Каплан) in Tartu (then Juryev), Estonia, then Russian Empire in 1899. In the early 1920s he moved to Paris and became involved in cinema through playing cello in the orchestra at showings. He began making films on his own, and never worked with a production company. —Wikipedia