2 Sep 2021
Augustin Trapenard, Yéro Mbow, Silène Gerschel
Léo Boucry’s short film Theatrum Mundi filters a young man’s coming of age through the lens of commedia dell’arte. The protagonist, named Pierrot (voiced by Augustin Trapenard, played by Yéro Mbow), is fascinated with cinema. He joyfully recounts introducing his girlfriend (Silène Gerschel) to the big screen at a showing of Edward Scissorhands, before bitterly reliving the moment she left him for someone else. That one betrayal shapes his life, and he begins to explore what it really means to be alive.
Each performer represents a stock commedia dell’arte character, though some double. Pierrot, the sad clown, narrates the film; Isabella, his girlfriend, is the young lover (doubling as Columbina, Pierrot’s wife); Lélio is Isabella’s lover (also representing the Harlequin, who steals Columbina away); and finally Pantalon, the rich man (here, Pierrot’s boss). Prior knowledge of this form of theatre is unnecessary, as Boucry’s intentions are clear, and the storytelling simple enough to bypass anything that may be lost in translation. Through commedia dell’arte, Boucry explores his protagonist’s belief that birth and death (or, ‘entrances’ and ‘exits’) are life’s only certainties. In between, one must improvise. The film’s title can be understood as “all the world’s a stage”, and by presenting to the audience not only the experience of sitting in a theatre, but also the rich costumes, the visual of deep red curtains such as those that rise and fall between acts, and the interesting (and underused) puppetry, there is a clear feeling of performance and unreality.
The protagonist grows up in an implicitly abusive household. The one scene with his parents shows them gesticulating and apparently yelling (the sound is covered by the score and Pierrot’s narration). He retreats to the sanctuary the cinema – and, by extension, movies – provides him. He is raised on films, and once he learns his girlfriend has been unfaithful, he begins to doubt their power. “Life is not like a box of chocolates,” he says. While it is understandable that sharing cinema with a person who eventually betrayed him could lead him to associate only negativity with that which he once loved, it seems strange that the main crux of the film is a man angry with his girlfriend. Of course, he is angry with the world, but it is a woman’s betrayal that pushes him over the edge, that turns film into a source of hurt.
Despite the theatrical presentation, the influence of film is clear, not least in Pierrot’s falling in and out of love with the medium. At one moment, he echoes a sentiment from Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film La Haine: “The most important thing is not the fall, it’s the landing.” This parallels Pierrot’s belief that death is one of life’s only certainties and, implicitly, he gets to choose how he dies. Sadly, none of the film references feel embedded in the narrative. Lines and titles are mentioned or paraphrased, but Pierrot’s interest in film could be replaced by something else (perhaps theatre or puppetry, as we see him puppeteering a homemade theatre as a child) and little would be lost. It would have been great to see that passion better represented. As it stands, the commedia dell’arte is much stronger, even solely as a visual.
Theatrum Mundi feels both too vague and too obvious. The narration says nothing we haven’t heard before, while the visuals are inventive and often striking: Pierrot’s unchanging makeup forces us to wonder, is this simply a ‘costume’, or has he never had the opportunity to change? There are frustrating flashes of brilliance here, but they are buried in Boucry’s heavy-handed message.