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French Masterworks: Russian Emigres in Paris 1923-1929 - 5 Iconic Films Albatros Productions
French Masterworks: Russian Emigres in Paris 1923-1929 - 5 Iconic Films Albatros Productions
|Flicker Alley // PG-13 // May 14, 2013|
List Price: $59.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott |
posted May 7, 2013 |
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In February of 1920, a group of seasoned Russian filmmakers
arrived in Paris. They had been successful in their mother
country, but the revolution of 1917 and Lenin's subsequent
the film industry (and the seizure of all assets of those companies)
group to flee. Once in France,
formed the core of a new film studio they dubbed Albatros and started
technically proficient and beautiful movies.
While nearly impossible to see in the US for
decades, Flicker Alley, in
association with Film Preservation Associates, has released an
five-movie collection of Albatros' output.
Using restored prints and some excellent musicians to accompany
fine films, they've released another must-buy set.
The Burning Crucible
(Le Brasier Ardent, 1923): The
first three films in this collection
feature Ivan Mosjoukine, a great actor who is largely forgotten today. This film, which Mosjoukine not only stars
but also wrote and directed, is a wonderful example of his talent. A married woman, Elle, is adored by her rich
husband who caters to her every whim.
She has buttons by her bed so she can eat breakfast, apply her
and even have her dogs brought to her without ever getting up. From humble origins, she seems to have
everything that she desires.
There is one problem though:
her husband, who hails from South America, wants to sell their
good, and Elle loves the city. They get
in a fight and she runs out of the house.
He follows her, but ends up at "the mysterious Seekers Club
location was secret." Being brought
inside Le Mari (as he's identified in the film... husband in French)
many strange and unusual things... disembodied eyes, countless floating
typing, and finally a group of slightly grotesque-looking gentlemen
door marked "Return of Missing Wives."
There he's informed that if he wishes to select one of their
that person will find his wife's "soul" and return it to him within two
months. He selects a particularly odd
who removes his disguise with a swipe of his hand to reveal Z, a famous
very handsome) detective. The sleuth
proceeds to go about altering Elle's perception of Paris, but he soon
that he's drawn to her.
This is an impressive and creative movie that's a lot of fun
to experience. The first section of the
movie is filled with surreal images and events.
It starts off with a tinted dream sequence that is very
climaxes with the wonderfully odd Seeker's Club where nothing seems
natural. This was a fun and visually
exciting way to start the ball rolling.
After that, the plot takes over and the movie becomes a
standard, if slightly off skew, love triangle.
The strange images and unusual characters make way for a more
telling of the story. It may sound odd,
but it works well. The surreal elements
draw viewers in, while the solid plot gets them to stay.
Kean (1924): This is a
biopic of the 19th
Century actor, Edmund Kean. You may
remember him for his famous last words:
"Dying is easy, comedy is hard."
Made some 90 years after his death, the film tells of the
of his time, a man toasted as the greatest actor of all time. Great though he may have been on the stage,
his personal life was a wreck. He was
hounded by creditors, had a problem with alcohol, and to make matters
had fallen in love with the wife of an ambassador.
Troubled by the fact that he loves, and is loved, by someone
he cannot have, he drowns his troubles in drink, seeming to have a
dancing till all hours of the night while really in terrible pain. He's shown to be a kind man too, however,
putting on a benefit performance of Hamlet in order to help some
thespians who have fallen on hard times.
Unbeknownst to the popular actor, this performance, with the
his affection as well as her husband in the audience, will have
consequences on his life.
This movie is basically a showcase for Ivan Mosjoukine who
plays the title role. The movie begins
with a 20-minute sequence from Romeo and
Juliet, and there are extended scenes of Kean playing other roles
Shakespeare. It a great vehicle for
to declare that he's a serious and talented actor, which he undoubtedly
it doesn't work as well as it should.
When Kean is on stage, Mosjoukine seems to be in 'acting' mode,
exaggerated gestures and deliberate, thought-out motions.
This makes the "performances" seem more
wooden than the rest of the film where he has a more natural style. The fact that we can't hear Kean speaking and
have to read title cards instead also subtracts from the performance.
Still, it is a good film, even if you didn't know anything about
Kean aside from that one famous quote.
There are some very good scenes, like when Kean gets drunk in
and double exposures were used in a very effective manner.
The Late Mathias
Pascal (Feu Mathias Pascal, 1926):
Mathias Pascal (Ivan Mosjoukine) is the oldest son in a
well-to-do family. Expected to take over
the family lands, and all the responsibility that entails, he's a
yearns for freedom. He's working on a
book, The History of Liberty, when his father unexpectedly dies and the
falls on hard times. His mother is
forced to sell the ancestral estate and gets swindled in the deal.
As this is happening, Mathias' best friend, Pomino, has
fallen in love with the town beauty, Romilde.
He's too shy to actually speak with her however, so he convinces
to approach her on his behalf and declare his love.
During the harvest celebration Mathias
manages to get Romilde away from the crowds and, a bit awkwardly, tells
that he has a friend who has admired her from afar.
The young lady thinks that Mathias is talking
about himself, and since she's had a crush on him for a long time she's
thrilled. She confesses her love to the
object of her affection, Mathias is taken by surprise but excited, and
thing you know they're married.
Domestic life doesn't quite suit Mathias who only wants to
be free. While he loves his wife, his
mother-in-law is a harsh shrew who lives with them and poisons her
against Mathias. He doesn't have any
skills to speak of, but finally lands a job at the library, a
dusty place. It doesn't pay much, but
he's able to support his wife, her mother, and the baby girl that comes
Mathias loves his daughter dearly. She's
the only person he really loves aside
from his mother, so it's no surprise that's he devastated when a
through the town and takes both his aged mother and his baby girl. It's too much for him to take, so he gets on
a train and runs away to Monte
Still devastated by the loss in his life, Mathias walks
through the streets as if in a dream and ends up in a casino where,
odds, he wins a fortune. With money no longer a worry, he travels back
share the good news with his wife, but on the way back he spies an
article in a
newspaper stating that the decomposed body of Mathias Pascal in a river. It's assumed that he committed suicide over
the grief of his loss and his money worries.
With this news Mathias realizes that he's finally free.
He doesn't have to worry about money, he
doesn't have to worry about his wife and mother-in-law.
He doesn't even have a name anymore. At
last he has total liberty! So he travels
to Rome where he takes a room
at a boarding house and falls in love again, and slowly comes to
being totally free has its disadvantages too.
Writer/director Marcel L'Herbier creates a bravura film that
works on several levels. Running only a
few minutes shy of three-hours long, the director basically looks at
life twice. Once while he's alive and a
second time after he has 'died.' It's
interesting to see how the character behaves before and after he's
and how he handles the pitfalls that life throws in his way in both
By this time in film history directors had discovered how
powerful images could be and worked to construct them. L'Herbier goes
his way to create interesting compositions.
There are a couple of reoccurring themes that work well to both
story and make it visually engaging.
Several times he has an object fill most of the frame in the
while the action was taking place in the background.
It was different, but worked well in the
context. He's also fond of repeating
images, such as several doorways, successively smaller, repeating down
L'Herbier also comes up with some wonderful and unique ways
to solve the problems that he comes across in the course of the film. For example, how do you show the passage of
time between Mathias falling in love with Romide and when they're
living with her mother? That intervening
time isn't important to the story, but you have to let viewers know
has passed and events have occurred that impact the characters. L'Herbier solution is to have Mathias and
Romide dance around when they first fall in love, he then superimposes
over a scene of the pair getting married, and dancing.
This dance scene is then cross-faded with the
pair dancing in their home, no longer wearing fancy wedding garb but
tattered clothes that they a accustomed to.
The movie is filled with interesting visual flourishes, a dream
and a part where Mathias fights with himself spring to mind, that make
incredible visual feast.
Star Ivan Mosjoukine also gives a magnificent performance in
the title role, as would be expected.
He's uses a lot of very subtle facial expressions to reveal what
thinking and its impressive how much he can do with so little movement. The scene where he realizes that Romilde is
in love with him is a great example. The
camera focuses on him, and goes from nervousness to surprise to elation
just the smallest changes in his face.
There's no over the top scene chewing here.
He's also at home in the comic aspects of the
character. If anything, he's more at
ease in those scenes.
Gribiche (1925): The final
two movies in this collection,
while not featuring Ivan Mosjoukine are directed by Jacques Feyder (Carnival in Flanders, Greta Garbo's Anna
Christie) which is a fair trade
off. The first of these, Gribiche,
is a nice, charming film.
Mrs. Maranet is a very rich woman who encounters young
Gribiche in a department story one day when he offers her a minor
assistance. Gribiche, who lives with his
widowed mother, is from a lower class background... they're not destitute
they struggle a bit. Mrs. Maranet is
taken by the boy and decides to adopt him and give him a proper
upbringing. Soon Gribiche finds himself
with tutors and
butlers and other servants all keen to turn him into a proper gentleman. He's put on a rigid schedule and taught how
to dress and behave in polite company.
Yes he has better food, but is it all worth it?
This film, like many that Feyder would create, is beautiful
to watch. The sets are especially well
done, and the difference between the living environments of the working
and rich are nicely illustrated. While
the latter fills their enormous homes with gorgeous but uncomfortable
furniture, the lower class goes for function rather than glitz.
The New Gentlemen
(Les Nouveaux Messieur, 1929): This
is another Feyder film and it also
touches on the differences between the classes as well as the effects
on an average man, but this one is a comedy.
Susanne Verrier is a dancer with the Paris Opera, and while
she's not the greatest dancer ever, she has turned the head of the
Montoire Grandpre, a wealthy member of parlement who lavishes her with
and helps her career any way she can.
Also with the Paris Opera is Jacques Gaillac, an electrician
and local union leader. He's secretly in
love with Verrier but knows he can't compete with a Count.
At least he doesn't have a chance until a
strike propels him to prominence and he ends up elected to Parliament
Count is less influential than he used to be.
This is a lovely farce pitting the newly powerful against
the old guard, and it's still topical today in a lot of respects. Feyder does a magnificent job setting up the
premise and letting it run. There are a
lot of amusing scenes that work quite well, especially Gaillac's
his new life.
These five films arrive on five DVDs, all of which fit in a
single-width DVD case.
These films all come with new scores arranged and performed
by some very talented musicians. One of
my favorite groups working to add music to early films is the Mont Alto
Picture Orchestra and they do a wonderful job on Gribiche.
Other musicians include Neil Brand, Robert
Israel, Timothy Brock, and Antonio Coppola.
All of the scores were very good and I couldn't find fault with
These films all look beautiful. They are
clear, crisp, and wonderful to
see. The contrast is excellent overall
and the level of detail is very good.
There are some small spots and dirt occasionally, but they never
presentation. An excellent looking
collection of films.
The only extra is a scene from Gribiche that was discovered
in a foreign release print, but not included in the French version of
film. It last a tad under 3 minutes and
features the young boy encountering a drunk on Bastille Day.
While the DVDs themselves don't come with many extras, there
is a very nice 28-page booklet with an essay on the history of Albatros
Lenny Borger as well as notes on the individual films.
It's a good read and a great addition to the
The first pressings (at least) of this set also include a $5
off coupon when buying The Italian Straw
Hat, another Albatros film, from Flicker Alley's on-line store.
These are surprisingly good.
I wasn't familiar with the output of Albatros aside from The Late Mathias Pascal before I
screened these movies and I was quite impressed. From
the witty The New Gentlemen to the
Burning Crucible and the endearing Gribiche,
there's something for all
tastes. Add to that the wonderful prints
and the appealing scores and the result is a fantastic set. Highly