On the occasion of our “Taittinger Author’s Cuisine Prize”, Paola Dicelli, journalist-reporter at Point de Vue magazine, imagined for the literary and artistic magazine Octopus a – very – quirky story around the pig, theme of this 55th edition.

Although considered today as a classic of silent cinema, Murnau’s “Dawn” (Sunrise in English) was overshadowed on its release by O’Brien’s “Jazz Singer” the first talking film. However this twilight drama is probably one of the most accomplished silent films with its quality of direction, its superprints and the beauty of its black and white. By the way, Truffaut himself considered it “the most beautiful film in the world”. 

But if it is worthwhile for its aesthetics, its story of disconcerting simplicity deserves just as much praise. It follows the journey of a country couple whose husband under the spell of a vamp coming from the city ( a recurring archetype in silent cinema) decides to kill his wife by drowning her in a lake. But as he is overcome with remorse at the last moment, his wife flees to the city and together they are confronted with a place teeming with people and life (and vices!). 

One would tend to believe, and rightly so, that “Dawn” only has three characters : the farmer, his wife and the vamp. But there is another character, central to this story : the pig. Appearing at first sight as a comic element in a single sequence, it carries a considerable symbolic charge in several respects. But first let’s put it in context. Having reconciled (in 1927, a wife could easily forgive her husband for trying to murder her!) the couple who had sunk into their country routine, discover a city full of life. She shops, he goes to the barber, they go to a photographer to immortalize their love. In the evening while they are having a good time at a funfair, a pig escapes from its pen and causes trouble for the visitors. 

In the collective imagination, the pig represents rurality and in this scene it could thus be the synecdoche of the couple’s countryside. It is as if it were drowned in the teeming city by its smallness, as the farmer and his wife are. A sort of corkscrewed version of Lewis Carroll’s white rabbit, inviting the two characters to follow it to wonderland. But in reality, Frederich Murnau offers another reading of this scene, darker than it appears. The pig is black, a symbol of evil. Therefore, this pig that escapes from the funfair would not represent the couple as a whole, but only the farmer. A farmer who, on the day before, wanted to kill his wife. This is all the more convincing as the pig escaping in the direction of a restaurant kitchens stumbles upon a bottle of wine, but it gets so drunk that it staggers to find its way back. The pig is thus the victim of the vice caused by the city, just as the vamp (who came from the same city) was the victim of the man. Moreover, it is a coincidence that it is the farmer who finds the pig, and brings it back to safety. As if by this action, he finally manages to rehabiliate his souL. The next sequence shows the couple, serene, returning to the countryside following this crazy interlude. Finally after fooling around with sin, the two “pigs” of “Dawn” return to the pen. 

Image © L’Aurore de Fredrich Murnau