“And the man and the woman were naked together, and were unashamed.”

These words are spoken in voiceover as the camera slowly pans across Venetian waters and a frieze featuring Adam and Eve, their bodies almost entwined. It is the film’s opening shot, shot in Venice’s Piazza San Marco.

With this reference to the Biblical Eve, could Eva be a story of the original woman? Unlikely. But Jeanne Moreau, perhaps now still but definitely in 1962, was close enough to a figure of the iconic woman, the utmost woman. She had won three prestigious acting awards, and more would come. Having recently starred as indescribably seductive, sexually frank women in a number of other films, Moreau was at the pinnacle of the European art film world, the height of French glamour.

Moreau stars as Eve – although is not Eve, or at least not quite. The screen presence of an icon always blurs their persona, and Eve is a character beyond reach, not fully known on screen. Yet Moreau is clearly the highlight of the film, her sultry expression and glamorous posture continuously emphasised. She appears early in Eva, only briefly, and then it’s almost too long before we see her again. An entire party scene takes place without her. By the time she reappears, having broken into a lavishly decorated house after getting soaked in the rain, she’s as magnetic on screen as she is magnetic to Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker), whose obsession is sparked when he first glimpses her from afar. In this stunning scene, in which Moreau’s wordless performance is driven by detailed body language, she runs a bath to Billie Holiday’s “Willow Weep for Me” on the record player, and mooches coolly around a bedroom. While she is enjoying her luxury, there is also a sense of boredom in her; hearing voices outside, she is restless, and smacks her lips together as though planning her next move. She doesn’t move from the bath, though, until an intruder takes the needle off the record player; that she simply places it back and restarts the music, without acknowledging anyone’s presence, speaks to her character. She wants money, she later admits, to buy records. Eve favours sensory elements, not ashamed to indulge in hedonistic pleasures, and that Moreau can convey this while not entirely alienating the audience from her character shows her command of performance.

Christopher Weedman notes that Losey’s American identity – attached to him even though he was blacklisted and successfully moved to Europe – “worked against him, since many critics refused to unequivocally accept Hollywood filmmakers as artists.”1 Yet, in this early scene, in the two-storey house, Losey’s directorial control comes through. Moreau slinks around the room and then walks forward into the camera, which cuts just as her face fills the frame. In the bath, she kicks towards the camera, flicking water with her foot; a cut to Baker’s foot performing the same movement creates a rhythmic friction. A terrific shot frames the characters through a wooden staircase, each step serving a similar function to venetian blinds, slatted across the screen, epitomising the sharpness of the film’s composition.

Another shot on a staircase is framed with half the screen a block of white in the foreground, Moreau and Baker far from the camera. Losey often frames his characters like this, restricted in a thin mirror, only visible through a door slightly ajar or seen as shrunken reflections in a pair of cat’s-eye sunglasses. In other scenes, convex wine glasses alter the balance of bodies. Later, Francesca (Virna Lisi) collapses towards a wall in despair, next to an artwork of a man mirroring her action. These are all evidence of a keen eye, and Losey’s experience making sharp genre films in Hollywood and Europe. While Losey’s style was often unfairly criticised as “baroque, or over-ornate”,2 here it is perfectly balanced in its composition.

In addition to visual style in Eva, Losey demonstrates an awareness of the power of sound to create atmosphere and communicate information. Eve reads Tyvian’s novel, its cover bearing the title L’etranger en enfer. Is this a sign – Losey often imbued objects in his films with symbolic weight – that this film is about a stranger in hell? Or is it about Eve, welcomed, but desperate to escape the Garden of Eden? When Tyvian talks of being a phony author, of stealing his dead brother’s novel, church bells ring in the distance until the scene fades to black. The church bells are an ironic aural effect – the sound of redemption, of Christian forgiveness – but Tyvian is, as it’s declared, a liar and a thief. The bells are heard again when he obsessively follows Eve to the island, cheating on his wife. They sound out as a cruel punishment.

Eva is not a perfect film, but it’s certainly an atmospheric one; while Losey’s talent is undeniable, it has been noted that he must have been pleased to add a credit with Moreau to his catalogue of work. Losey’s control of the picture was taken from him and the final version rights went to its producers. The film was cut significantly – as is detailed elsewhere in this journal by Geoff Gardner3 – and some material has been lost. Even with challenges to its narrative coherence, this film is stark and cool, with a mod approach and black-and-white cinematography. While Losey may have been disappointed at the outcome of his film, the fact that it seemingly eschews narrative and character clarity in favour of mood and visual style is not disastrous – indeed, it is now considered one of the director’s key works. Perhaps for Losey, and for audiences, much of its value can be found in its function as a showcase for Moreau. “Don’t fall in love with me,” she demands of Tyvian, while seducing him. It would be a tough challenge.

At the final meeting of the conflicted lovers, Billie Holiday’s “Loveless Love” emanates from the record player. When it ends, there is left only the sound of a hollow wind, and the sound of the boat on the water’s surface as Tyvian is left alone. The film ends with church bells ringing out over an almost deserted Venice, its iconic spaces – like Piazza San Marco – empty, its rivers unoccupied. This is a film about Eve, clearly, but it is also a cinematic reflection of her, a film with an undeniable sensuality yet told with a stone-cold rebuff to emotion. Its opening and closing images – of two bodies of water, the unity and separation of characters – are symbols of this mirrored stage. Who knows what else we would have seen of this mysterious woman, had Losey had his way with a longer cut? I will forever be curious.

Eva (1962 France, Italy, 103 min)

Prod Co: Paris Film Productions/Interlopa Film Prod: Raymond Hakim, Robert Hakim, Giorgio Baldi Dir: Joseph Losey Scr: Hugo Butler, Evan Jones Phot: Gianni Di Venanzo Ed: Reginald Beck, Franca Silvi Comp: Michel Legrand Prod Des: Richard Macdonald, Luigi Scaccianoce

Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Stanley Baker, Virna Lisi, Giorgio Albertazzi, James Villiers

 

Endnotes

  1. Christopher Weedman, “Joseph Losey”, in Suzanne Leonard & Yvonne Tasker (eds.), Fifty Hollywood Directors (New York: Routledge, 2015) p.145.
  2. James Leahy, The Cinema of Joseph Losey (London: A Zwemmer Ltd., 1967) p.163.
  3. Geoff Gardner, “Unkind Cuts: Joseph Losey’s Eve,” Senses of Cinema 18 (December 2001), http://sensesofcinema.com/2001/underrated-and-overlooked/losey_eve/.

About The Author

Eloise Ross is Program Manager and President of the Melbourne Cinémathèque. She has a PhD in cinema studies from La Trobe University specialising on sound and embodiment, and writes and teaches about film.