Il fauno, written and directed by Febo Mari, represents state-of-the-art filmmaking for 1917, which is to say the tableaux long-shots are broken up by closer views that jump in to enlarge persons of interest, but there are no reverse angles. However, the cinematography is extraordinary, with atmospheric single-source lighting bringing out the contours and contributing hugely to the movie's sensual effect.
At the start, Mari himself steps out from behind a curtain to introduce his film in the best Universal horror manner, then he becomes the titular mythic man-beast, a statue brought to life who seduces his sculptor's mistress and runs away with her to the country.
You can't make a convincing faun with 1917 special effects, according to conventional wisdom (if you can get conventional wisdom to consider such a question). The whole reason Ray Harryhausen gave his cyclops goat legs in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, as I see it, was to make the giant into something that couldn't possibly be played by a man in a monster suit. And yet Mari does it. With high-heeled pumps built into his hairy hooves and padding that seems to raise his knees halfway up his thighs, thus transforming his legs into a more hircine configuration, he clumps about accurately embodying the satyric form—though he perhaps needed more practice walking in heels.
At any rate, he's more convincing than Tony Randall's Pan in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), though that is a disarmingly sexy scene. (I know, you're thinking, "Tony Randall, how sexy can it be?" but the answer is very.)
Mari's impressive body makeup, seven years before Lon Chaney's shaggy-maned Hunchback of Notre Dame and the convincingly gargoylesque demons of Häxan (1922), is just one of the film's virtues. Its plot may not be another, but the sexy mixture of modern realism and oneiric fantasy certainly is.
For all the film's appeal, it's beaten out by another faun film (is that a sub-sub-sub genre, and if so, of what?), 1935's Spring Night, a short ballet movie directed by Tatiana Tuttle, who appears to have made nothing else for the cinema. This little movie marks her as one of the great one-off directors, like Charles Laughton or Herk Harvey.
It's a film with its own perfume, so heady as to induce swooning. The kind of eroticism that has nothing whatsoever to do with smut, and isn't building towards any kind of sexual release—just delirium.
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