In this seemingly classical detective story, the subjective camera eye itself gradually claims the leading role. A playful ode to Dziga Vertov.
A woman, concerned about the continual absences of her husband, commissions a detective to follow him and report back to her. At first glance this appears to be a classic fictional device, all the more so since Charles Dekeukeleire segments his film with titles informing us of the latest developments of the story. Yet this framework serves only to set up a narrative pretext for disrupting narrative itself in favour of pure cinema. For the detective uses photographic equipment as an instrument of investigation: thus, the camera becomes the principal character and its subjectivity the principal subject of the film.
The melancholy of Monsieur Jonathan and his eventual reunion with his wife rapidly become the least of both our and the director’s worries. The film is preoccupied with something very different: the camera-eye (Dziga Vertov’s film dates from 1928), a voyeuristic instrument which records fragments of the real to organize a reality which would be truth. The investigation thus becomes the history of a film, with the hazards of shooting, its hidden (and hindered) camera style, the editing and projection. The fictional happy ending leaves unresolved the fundamental issue: how does cinema relate to reality? The photography and camerawork exploit the imperfections of the reportage or stake-out, such as focusing errors, double exposures, fragmentary and ambiguous information and the ordening of shots into impressions rather than information. Providing counterpoint and harmony, the titles designed by painter Victor Servranckx similarly play with their narrative function, only to quickly distance themselves from it, preferring pure visual experimentation.
“Histoire de détective is an experimental film which allows narrative in, only to negate it by suppressing, not just acting, but all the visual conventions which the silent cinema had built up to present story material to the spectator.”