The following has very kindly been provided by Frances:
Our discussion of The Student of Prague began with the observation that the film contains an impressive array of locations and sets, even though the narrative concerns only a handful of key characters. These locations include the opening unnamed locations where we meet Balduin, the hunting scene in the woods and the lake, Balduin’s apartments and the Count’s house. For the exterior shots, we were particularly impressed with how the space within this location shooting is utilised. For example, in the scene where the double kills the Count’s nephew (and his daughter’s fiancé), this information is conveyed to us in a single shot where Balduin despairs of this realisation in the foreground, and we can see past him to see other figures tending to his opponent’s body in the background. This use of depth in the frame is seen again during the dancing scene near the end of the film, and during the hunting scene where dozens of dogs come forward towards the camera, adding to the impressive scale of this event and emphasising the wealth of Count and his family. It was also noted that the film’s continual use of outdoor, location shooting – often displaying vast spaces – was in contrast to the private nature of the plot, which concentrates on the interweaving narratives of just a few people.
It was also noted during our discussion that many of these exterior shots are also long takes. These extended scenes are often superfluous to narrative development, as with the hunting scene which continues to show the running dogs and horse riders from varying angles. In contrast, the indoor scenes are presented without edits, as a tableau image, and it was often in these locations that the majority of the plot progressed as characters interacted with each other. For example, the exchange between Balduin and Scapinelli, which leads to the forfeiting of the former’s soul, is presented in this manner, along with the striking moment when Balduin’s reflections steps out of the mirror. We also mentioned how, due to a lack of intertitles (albeit in this particular version), the actors’ performance and costumes are important in conveying important narrative information. Scapinelli’s appearance in the aforementioned scene is a good example of this. His dark costume, slumped posture and creeping movements all help to communicate Scapinelli’s role as the antagonist. Balduin and his double also provide striking performances. As Balduin despairs more and more over his regrettable decision to sign away his soul, the protagonist’s movements become more erratic and melodramatic, as demonstrated in the final sequence when Balduin attempts to (unsuccessfully) out-run his double just before the tragic climax of the film. The double, on the other hand, remains static in most shots, moving slowly and purposefully when seen walking. Such performances convey effectively the callous and cruel nature of both Balduin’s reflection and Scapinelli, which contrasts the love-struck naivety and tragic nature of Balduin.
It was also commented that the succinct number of characters in the film helps to heighten the double theme. In addition to Balduin and his double, several other characters can be seen to ‘double’ other players within the plot, either through physical similarity or narrative function. For instance, Balduin is doubled with the Count’s nephew as a rival in love for the affection of the Countess. The Countess is doubled in the strange character of the ‘wandering girl’ who often appears in the same scenes as her. However, where the Countess is wealthy and enjoys the attention Balduin gives to her, the wandering girl is dressed in rags and cannot successfully attract Balduin’s eye. Yet the wandering girl’s persistence in stalking Balduin’s and the Countess’s movements also make her a double for Scapinelli; both of these characters maintain an interest in Balduin’s life and both move in a similar manner. This observation raised the topic as to the purpose of the wandering girl to the narrative. This character remains relatively underdeveloped, without a backstory, and she does not feature in the film’s conclusion. We pondered about the wandering girl’s relationship to the supernatural aspects of the film – as she is often aligned with Scapinelli – but there was not sufficient character development to decide on this point for definite. The supernatural aspect of the film’s ending was also mentioned in our talk as the sight of Balduin’s double resting on the protagonist’s grave is a striking, albeit enigmatic, image.