Magic Mirror @ GFT

Review by Helen Wright | 29 Jul 2013

Sarah Pucill’s film Magic Mirror hovers somewhere between a love letter to its subject, French Surrealist Claude Cahun, and a critical self-examination. Working in her favoured medium of black and white 16mm, Pucill animates the photography and writing of Cahun, one of her major influences. A series of highly staged tableaux either recreate the earlier artist’s images or visualise the enigmatic prose of her 1930 text Aveux Non Avenus (Confessions Cut Off), heard via voiceover.

Cahun’s well-known photographs include, for instance, a doubled, superimposed self-portrait, where a pale, shaven-headed character contemplates her clone. Pucill recasts this as an actor closely resembling her idol, staring curiously at but this time swivelling around and exploring its doppelgänger. A strange, poetic line from Aveux Non Avenus – “the mother was so unappetising that the baby was offered an aperitif before being served the breast” – becomes a piece of pastry laid over a woman’s chest with a cherry used to adorn her nipple.

Pucill, working in photography and film since the early 90s, shares Cahun’s concern with a split subjectivity. Both artists obsessively repeat an iconography of mirrors, shadows, and the female double, which represent the difficulty of embodying a whole, integral personality. In an illustrative arrangement, Cahun, this time with cropped hair and a dramatic checked coat, gazes at her own camera while her reflection stares off into space. Cahun snapped her lover of 40 years, Marcel Moore, in a similar pose. Pucill mixes up these constituents, creating Moore as the face meeting her partner’s in reflective glass, with a further mirror behind the couple, duplicating them and suggesting the beginning of an infinite doubling. Ideas like this make Magic Mirror an exacting study of an intriguing figure from 20th century art alongside a forceful philosophical tract on the female self-image. [Helen Wright]