24 Frames: A Marca da Pantera (Cat People, Paul Schrader, 1982)
Like the strangely sympathetic villain of Cat People, Irena, Sister Ruth’s passion for a man and her hatred for her romantic rival animalizes her. She assumes a feline’s nocturnal wandering habits and silent method of stalking prey. The camera treats her like a cat, emphasizing her eyes in tight close-ups. The most notable of these is the ultra-close “panther shot” of Sister Ruth peering at Clodagh from the shadowy convent. At that moment she intends to kill Clodagh and the absence of her body in the frame symbolizes her transformation into cat, and therefore killer.
While it is plausible to imagine the eclectic Archers drawing inspiration from a recent artistic B-picture, viewing Black Narcissus in terms of Cat People is useful because it demonstrates the former’s exploration of repressed passion in women as an exploration of women as a caged, wild creatures.
Throughout the film, Sister Ruth is rendered feline. The first reference to her is made by the Mother Superior in the Convent of the Order of Mary’s dining hall. Mother Superior briefly discusses in turn each of the sisters Clodagh will take to Mopu. As she does so, the camera shows each of the sisters at dinner. When Mother Superior tells Clodagh she should take Sister Ruth however, the camera cuts to an empty place at the table. Clodagh challenges the Mother Superior’s decision, stating, “Sister Ruth is ill.” Sister Ruth is first introduced to the audience through her absence, creating suspense and an aura of mystery about her. This device is not unlike the introduction of villains in horror films – which tend to deny the viewer visual access to the monster/killer early in the film – and it also suggests the femme fatale because it presents the female character as unknown. Indeed, the roles of villain and temptress fuse in Sister Ruth’s animal-like characterization. Woman is other here and otherness implies the inhuman, both in its strictly animal and monstrous forms. The first information revealed about Ruth is that she is ill. Animals instinctively withdraw from sick or wounded members of their kind, illness being a sign of difference and threat, and from the beginning she is presented as someone cloistered from the others. Later at the Mopu palace, Ruth delights in skirting the precipitous edge of the terrace bell tower, aligning herself with cat-like agility and their love of high places. She even externalizes the trapped-cat mentality, manifesting the feline in her body language. In one scene, she longingly looks at the virile Mr. Dean from the window. Her hands hook through the window’s cage-like screen, her “claws” bared. Later, when she visits his house, she steals through the jungle grass, panther-like. In her final attack of Clodagh, after her transformation to wild beast is complete, she mimics the fight methods of a cat: she creeps silently up to Clodagh at the bell tower, pounces on her, and when attempting to loosen Clodagh’s grip from the bell-pull, she claws at the startled nun’s hands. Essentially the two engage in that classical conflict of two women fighting for a man: “the catfight.”
The Cat Woman theme persists in a short, but thematically-loaded, shot of Sister Ruth creeping through the shadowy palace to Sister Clodagh. The structure of the shot as a whole references Tourneur’s visually poetic noir-thriller, while the unique lighting and composition evokes some of western culture’s oldest dark myths.
Nota: Como devia ser óbvio, mas nem tanto, a introdução da versão de Schrader saiu de A Canterbury Tale e não de 2001, enfim, o conceito é o mesmo. Da mesma forma que a transformação da mulher em felino em Tourneur é sutil, vemos que tal transformação em Schrader se aproxima muito mais do que foi feito em Black Narcissus, sem falar de todo tipo de pecualiaride na edição, na composição e uso de cores que certamente abrangem todo o resto da obra de Powell. Enfim. seria muito mais apropriado chamar o Cat People de 82 de “compilação do Michael Powell” do que “remake do Tourneur”.