Fritz Lang, Allemagne, 1933, RDM edition
In this extract, Fritz Lang shows us a series of shots where Elsie is absent when she should normally be present. In these shots, he films the absence as it is felt by the mum who worries for her daughter and calls her. In the shot with the postman, the doorbell makes us feel, like the mum, who smiles hearing it, that Elsie is behind the door because Lang hasn’t shown us the doorstep. The shot therefore works with the (bad) surprise when the hidden is shown. In the shot of the table set for her afternoon snack, Lang centres the exact seat where she should be, which makes her absence very present.
Only three other shots show us where Elsie is in the meanwhile. In the first one, where the man buys her a balloon, Lang takes good care of filming M. in the picture whilst hiding what could identify him: he is filmed from the back with his hat hiding him and when he slightly turns around to leave the picture we don’t see anything else of his face. The only thing that is not hidden is his stocky build. In this shot, the balloon seller is blind and, despite facing M., he can’t see him either. In the two shots representing Elsie’s murder in our mind, we don’t see the little girl or the murderer. Fritz Lang uses the cinematographic figure consisting in showing the part not to show the whole. It is what is called in classical rhetoric a metonymy. The part here is not even a close up on a detail of Elsie (it could have been her shoes for example). They are two objects which are linked at the same time to both Elsie and M.: the ball and the balloon he just bought her. In the first shot, the ball comes in the picture and stops, evoking the moment when Elsie loses her life and lets go of the ball to stop moving herself. The second shot shows us the balloon which she also let go of as she was dying, it stays stuck a bit in the electric cables (as if she was stuck in the killer’s snares), and ends up flying off, maybe like Elsie’s soul. Lang’s cinematographic morale prevented him to show the horror of a little girl’s murder. It was out of the question for him to arouse any sadistic urge from his spectator when showing this murder. He therefore chose to identify it without showing it.