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̶ This is Aravane.
Dark the tapered arc of the eyebrow descends to the tip of the cat’s ear; on each face—one eye deep in shadow, the other in a flare of light—the same unyielding stare.
̶ What presence!
Falling in a curtain to one side of her head, her hair crops the photo, bringing the faces forward and emphasizing the similarity of the eyes.
̶ And she’s just like that in person—relaxed, yet very intense.
̶ Did you spend much time together?
̶ Two hours. They went by in a flash!
Sitting opposite each other, lotus-like on the bed, we contemplate the woman you’re renting this apartment from.
̶ I can’t get over this photo, Sprague. It’s mesmerizing!
̶ Yes. There’s definitely something about it. It’s got rhythm, drama, tension.
̶ Yet a profound sense of peace. It’s uncanny!
̶ The cat is clearly tuned in to Aravane’s vibes.
̶ Unless it’s the other way around!
̶ Held back, yet penetrating—you’re right, that look is more feline than human.
̶ But face-to-face she’s no different!
̶ Do you like cats, Sprague?
̶ Yes, very much. And you?
Slung over her shoulders like a pelisse, the feline djinni inhabits Aravane’s gaze.
̶ I’d like to like them, but they give me the creeps!
̶ All cats?
̶ Yes, just about.
Imp of darkness, emblem of sin, hide yourself away on my wedding day: What is it about cats that gets to you? I’d have thought you’d see in cats’ eyes an image of your own independence; I’d have thought you’d see not an enemy of the sun or grimalkin but a cunning creature of forethought and ingenuity: One with whom you could identify.
̶ Pass it to me. I’ll put it back.
Unfolding your legs, you slide off the bed and walk to the far wall. On its stand on the console you place the photograph. Naked, seen from behind, your body is an hourglass that gives a stickiness to time: Suspended in the trickling sand, I hesitate between dream and reality. Was it just a moment ago you kissed my lips? Was it just a moment ago you straddled my hips, alternating wide circular movements with deep ones up and down? Through layered light you come back to me; dreamily your body affirms my sense of reality. Now plunge me into the heart of existence, stand up for contingence! Nine lives has the cat: Aravane demonstrates that.
‘Sexuality does not walk a straight line. Opaque, obscure, hesitant, it makes its way among words and images, obliquely. It is always perverse, taking detours, stumbling and staggering along.’ (Michel Schneider, Lacan, les années fauves [Paris: PUF, 2010] p. 215. My translation.)
The heroine of Cat People takes quite a detour: Whenever she submits to her desire she becomes a destructive black panther. In the 1942 film, this serves as a vivid metaphor for sexual repression, the heroine’s fear of her own desire. A poster advertising the film makes things explicit: ‘She knew strange, fierce pleasures that no other woman could ever feel’. The film itself couldn’t afford to be so clear: Tourneur’s suggestive subtext is overlaid with a surface of obfuscating folklore. As for the love story, it has none of the subversiveness of the film noir love stories of the time, and ends with the heroine not submitting to her desire, but sacrificing it to become a good citizen. A ‘happy ending’, of sorts, that Tourneur’s cinematography manages somewhat to subvert.