Melville eulogizes the life of Clowns with such a playful tenderness, that along with the laughter, it leaves a smile on our face for at least next 24 hours. Within the singularity of warmth, there are many emotions at play here. Nostalgia, mockery, wonder, fulfillment, respect, even mystery!
It’s easy to call it a documentary, that showcases two actually famous clowns, however the visual texture of the film – a nod to the silent-era comedies – suggests a dramatization that aligns more with the way we experience a clown’s act. Perhaps triggered as a financial limitation, the full reliance on narration to convey each thought & occasional dialogue works in the favor of smart artistry, because of Melville’s attention to detail & hold over the medium. This amalgamation of sound & imagery, subtly experimental for that time yet still fresh to the day & better than most mockumentaries, is portrayed in the true fashion of profundity that great clowns succeeded in conveying, by demonstrating the absurdity of life in a heightened manner. They were story’tellers’ after all. It’s a solid testament to the genius of Melville, whose mastery & originality thrived in any kind of film as it did with his world famous noirs.
Oh but there’s a clear noir element that bookends the whole film. Who could that mysterious narrator be? Death, that keeps track of everyone’s time? As the film ends with a rather elegiac thought for Béby, we accept it without sorrow because by now we’ve become just enough intimate and we know that Béby himself is not someone who would be so sad about it.
Link to the short film (without English subtitles): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8L5YvPZO_8
Best quality with English subtitles: https://www.criterionchannel.com/24-hours-in-the-life-of-a-clown