PCA reviews films that you’ve never seen…but should!
Danish filmmaker Nicole Nielsen Horanyi 2009 directorial debut The DeVilles is unlike most conventional films. It is not fiction. The characters in the film are real people, in real situation, living their real lives. It is not a documentary. Too many situations seemed to be staged, and there is always a sense that the camera is actually on the players. It is not a mockumentary. The situations are too real and the raw emotion to genuine. It is not a product of the last decade of reality television. There is little in the way of suspense or unexpected drama. Instead The DeVilles treads a fine line between reality and fiction, peering into the life of the eccentric patriarchs of a unique Los Angeles family.
The DeVilles chronicles a postage stamp sized moment in the romance between Teri Lee Geary, better known as burlesque queen Kitten DeVille, and her punk rockabilly husband Shawn Geary. Two aging hipsters who seem to live permanently trapped in the past, the couple have been together for twenty-five years and have raised three daughters. While Geary continues to bedazzle audiences in a Marilyn Monroesque stage show despite the fact that she is far older then most women still in the business , Shawn stays home with the kids and attempts to harness the ghost of Joe Strummer while jamming in the basement with his band. However, when a trust is breached between the couple, they are faced with the hard choice of working things out, or learning to live without each other.
A short film clocking in under an hour, The DeVilles is a compelling look at a couple who live on the fringes of society, yet is able to create a stable home life for their family. Kitten and Shawn are like people that you hung out with in your twenties, but instead of joining the status quo, they held on to their fantasy-like identities and refused to grow up. The passion and the fury they feel towards each other is very real and very raw and their scenes together, as they love and fight, are filled with a realness that is felt by the audience.
However, where The DeVilles fails is that the stakes are never as high as the film promises them to be. I found that during the pivotal fight between the couple that splits them apart that I became confused about what the issue was because, in my own mind, the “breach of trust” seemed so trivial that I watched the scene over and over again just in case I had missed something. The drama never seems to hit a fever pitch, betrayals are minor and the characters seem to be motivated by overreactions instead of true life changing drama.
Yet, while the drama may seem to be trivial, its necessary to remember that The DeVilles is a European film shot through the eyes of a Danish director taking a look at the way an American couple reacts to each other. This is Horanyi’s personal vision of 21st Century alternative culture. It is as if her real goal was to film the unconventional life of these two odd ball individuals, but in the process took the only drama she captured on camera and made it the center of the film. It is completely possible that Danish audiences found The Devilles drama far more compelling then a modern North American audience. The final scene, in particular, seems to be specifically staged for a foreign audience to the point that it comes off as being almost awkward for a North American one to watch. As a result, The DeVilles becomes the Danish version of Americana.
But despite various flaws in the storytelling, the true beauty of The DeVilles lies in Horanyi’s camera work as she captures Kitten and Shawn’s life. Kitten’s burlesque dance at the climax of the film is brilliantly shot with silhouette against a spotlight, and Horanyi uses Hitchcock inspired camera angles to add a sense of drama and beauty to The DeVilles rundown world. There is little doubt that Horanyi is an incredibly talented filmmaker and The DeVilles is an interesting first attempt at storytelling for the young director.