Cat People

Jacques Tourneur, Etats-Unis, 1942, Editions Montparnasse


This sequence is famous because it is considered as exemplary for cinema’s ability to evoke without showing. Maurice Tourneur show us nothing about this animal, we only hear threatening shouts provoking Alice’s anxiety and panic. The only visible clue of its presence is a feline shape shadow coming down the stairs. But we can associate it with the bad news cat we saw at the beginning of the sequence. The staircase itself appears worrying because of the well printed and disproportionate bannister’s ramp shadows. When Alice switches the corridor light off to head as a silhouette to the swimming pool area, we move from realistically lit world to a world surrounded by unrealistic darkness, reduced down to a few light spots. Very artificial and amplified through mixing sounds play a central part in the alarming atmosphere of this scene. Stylised animal noises are mixed by the swimmer’s terror screams. But the film-maker finally show use that light games have nothing to do with fear. It’s the mirroring on the water surface reflecting on the swimming pool’s walls and ceiling. These luminous vibration feeling comes in phase with the soundtrack vibrations and mix in an alarming way in our global perception of the scene. At the end of the sequence, the director suddenly takes the tension and anxiety down coming back to the normal reality world (the reception office) and to a dialogue with another character. But the sequence’s “anti-climax” is a “fall back” into anxiety because Alice’s bath robe has been truly slashed: it was not just a simple panic moment without any foundationt.