Pierrot’s a soft girl
Night and Day (Nuit et Jour), directed by Chantal Ackerman, is a love story.
One day Julie adopts a new lover and a new pair of shoes. She wears the same outfit daily — sensible shoes and a top with pants. At night she walks around Paris. Her new shoes are high-heeled sandals. Her boyfriend notices the shoe swap. She says to him something like: In sneakers, my feet are too close to the ground. This illuminates the metaphor, places Julie in an elevated position that is not only spatial but psychological. In heels she’s afforded arrogance. She is removed enough from reality to comment, to observe, and to laugh. She walks among the clouds.
The shoes elevate her class status too. Sneakers are practical and without vanity. Heels denote luxury and choice. We don’t always want to touch the dirt of reality. At the end of the film, Julie leaves her boyfriend, her lover and her apartment. She exits the building alone in a new outfit. She dumps her heels in a trash can. The simplicity of this gesture is etched in my memory. In a swift arc I see her leave the apartment, dump the heels. She walks away from the mess she has made. It’s a portrait of agency, more complicated than it appears. Her shoes! exclaimed my friend, watching the moment with me.
The shoe featured in a painting by William Larkin (1612-15) displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria is the shoe of an aristocrat. I am also interested in the sock, the blue of a robin’s egg, the correct partner to the extravagant shoe, yet unexpected for a painting of that time period. That shoe is utterly contemporary, I remarked to my friend. I am still thinking about the shoe.
Since I cut my hair much too short, I have met daily in my reflection the recognition that time moves in one direction. Moving house, I realised this again. The old house, a place of order and studious ambition, was left empty and leased to a new tenant. There was no moving back. This is at odds with my experience of time, which is fluid and tactile. Internally I slip between dreams, memories, projections, the past and future at whim. My material reality and the length of my hair exist on a plane that moves in one direction. The aristocrat’s shoe was travelling time; it had been fashionable once, and would wrap around another woman’s foot hundreds of years into the future. As with the blue sock, easily imagined on the foot of a stylish person in Melbourne.
I paid attention to a photograph with a glass vase and plastic heels. The similarity the vase and heels shared was spooky, and I was unable to leave it alone. ‘Over-determined’ sums up the exchange between my two friends and I concerning vases and their transsexual gendering. I offered two thoughts regarding vases: the feminine cavity, and the masculine phallus. Empty and thrusting.
It struck me that vases and shoes could share a connection. An absence that must be filled in order to perform the function. If I take a surface seriously, does that make me superficial? The greater question is how seriously am I being taken – and what does this have to do with having ‘feminine’ interests: shoes, vases, details. I ask this question continuously, in a paranoid fashion. It slinks into my night-mind and prevents me from falling asleep. How silly that a pair of shoes placed next to a vase could cause such anxiety and rumination.
I feel like a sad clown, Je suis Pierrot, yes, I just don’t get it. Pierrot is very stylish, even though everyone laughs at him. I wonder if ‘femme’ has a similar effect to that of a clown costume. The labour required to be taken seriously. Pierrot’s melancholy, unrequited love is made soft and silly by the pale frills around his neck and arms. Because he looks like a clown, he amuses. Even when his heart breaks, we smile.
Samantha Abdy is a poet.