Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Le Chant de l'amour triomphant

[The film was not released in Finland].
FR 1923. PC: Films Albatros. D+SC: Viatcheslav Tourjansky; based on the short story Песнь торжествующей любви by Ivan Turgenev (1881); DP: Joseph-Louis Mundwiller, Fédote Bourgassoff; AD: Alexandre Lochakoff, César Lacca, Vassili Choukaeff; cost. [of principals]: Vassili Choukaeff, made by Maison Édouard Souplet; tech. dir: Michel Feldman; filmed: Nîmes (Jardin de la Fontaine), Aigues-Mortes, Studio Montreuil, [Studio des Réservoirs (Joinville)?]; CAST: Nathalie Kovanko (Valeria), Jean Angelo (Muzio), Rolla Norman (Fabio), Nicolas Koline (Antonio), Jean d’Yd (Hindu servant), Basile Kourotchkine (Brahma), Paul Ollivier (Duke of Ferrara); 1943 m /18 fps/ 93 min.
From: La Cinémathèque française, reconstitué by them in 1986 (Renée Lichtig), print made in 1990. E-subtitles in English + Italian. Grand piano: John Sweeney. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 5 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "Ivan Turgenev’s short story "The Song of Love Triumphant" first appeared, dedicated to the memory of Gustave Flaubert, in 1881. A 1915 screen adaptation by Yevgenii Bauer, which gave Vera Kholodnaya one of her first and best major roles, is lost, but the changes of character names in that version suggests that Bauer transposed the story from the original location of 16th-century Ferrara to a more recent Russia. The Albatros version, on the contrary, observes the company’s customary fidelity to the setting, plot-line, and detail of the literary original. Le Chant de l’amour triomphant was Albatros’ only adaptation from a classical Russian author: its tale of 16th-century Ferrara invaded by Eastern mysticism and eroticism chimed admirably with 1920s’ tastes for "orientalism".
So closely is the story followed that the intertitles are practically all taken directly from Turgenev’s text – even to the equivocal phrase "Oh, how happy the youth for whom that pure maiden bud, still enfolded in its petals, will one day open into full flower!" – though the Albatros title-writers have inserted the unequivocal words "intact and virginal" after "petals". Turgenev’s conceit of introducing his story, "This is what I read in an old manuscript", and closing it, "At this word the manuscript ended", is echoed by giving the film’s opening and closing intertitles the appearance of manuscript fragments, though the main body of the titles are elegantly and unusually presented within a stylized Gothic arch design.
The common plot of story and film involves two young nobles of Ferrara, Fabio, a painter, and Muzio, a musician. Bosom friends, both are in love with Valeria, but agree that whichever she chooses, the other will submit totally to his fate. Valeria chooses Fabio, and Muzio, true to his word, departs for the East. After five years of bliss for the young couple, Muzio returns in company with a mute Hindu servant (Malay in the original) and steeped in oriental magic and mysticism. Valeria is strangely disturbed by his presence and particularly the eerie "Song of Love Triumphant" he plays on an exotic stringed instrument…
Tourjansky’s principal addition to the plot is to introduce some needed comic relief in the person of Fabio’s steward Antonio, who in the original story only figures briefly at the end. Antonio, now a clumsy, meddlesome but faithful retainer, is enthusiastically played by Nicolas Koline; and adds a new plot-element and climax to the film, in the scenes where he incites the lower orders of Ferrara to violent action against the "sorcerer" Muzio.
Tourjansky’s most fundamental contribution however is to reinforce the powerful erotic element more discreetly indicated by Turgenev. The common dream of Valeria and Muzio is much as described by Turgenev: "this curtain slowly glided, moved aside ... and in came Muzio. He bowed, opened his arms, laughed.... His fierce arms enfolded Valeria’s waist; his parched lips burned her all over.... She fell backwards on the cushions." Tourjansky’s most remarkable sequence, however, is Muzio’s performance of "The Song of Love Triumphant" for Fabio and Valeria: the image cuts between Valeria’s face, first wondering, then ravenous, close-ups of Muzio playing his exotic string instrument, with its arched bow, and a couple passionately making love, moment by moment becoming more naked. In the final shots the naked man metamorphoses into Muzio himself. It is a sequence of eroticism which it would be hard to parallel in commercial cinema of the 1920s.
Critics of the time regularly praised the film as a "poem", and it is interesting to find Cinéa (1 November 1923) positively enthusiastic because the film departs from current fashions of frantic editing (except, of course, in such scenes as that just described): "The abuse of ultra-hectic action (…) too often obliges us to take part in this prodigious gluttony of the screen, of which Abel Gance has recently shown us the cruel reality. The screen [today] demands an ever-growing number of images, hurled on the white screen with varied rhythms, but with a constant tendency to acceleration. The spectator gets accustomed to being gorged (…) The orchestra of images [in Le Chant de l’amour triomphant], grave and slow, will not carry us to paroxysms of rhythm. It is there only to describe, to relate. The film which is unfolded for us, is a great visual recital… the silence comes to life, grows, always charged with ideas, dreams and visual realizations…."
These visual realizations were the work of Alexandre Lochakoff and his team,
which included the designer Choukaeff, who would subsequently create the costumes for Carmen. The jungles of India and a Renaissance Italy that sometimes reflects a 1920s chic on the eve of Art Deco were recreated in the narrow Montreuil studio, though the Duke’s reception may have been filmed in the Studio des Réservoirs in Joinville, which Albatros used for its more ambitious sets, such as the Drury Lane reconstitution in Kean. For the exteriors of the city walls, and the gardens of Ferrara, the unit went on location to Nîmes and Aigues-Mortes. Even in parks, the Albatros designers found the elaborate stairways which feature so constantly in their interiors. A charming detail of design is the illustrated cast titles at the opening of the film. At the left of the screen an aggressive Cubist abstract panel is drawn back to reveal the actor in day-dress; at the right a traditional curtain in a Renaissance arch draws back to reveal him in character.
The film was restored in 1986 by Renée Lichtig, from an original nitrate copy acquired by the Cinémathèque Française in its early years. The restoration consisted of printing preservation elements and printing on colour stock. The copy projected was made in 1990. – David Robinson." -

A haunting love triangle. For Fabio, Valerie is a saint, for Muzio, a sensual woman. The Hindu love song awakens the mutual desire between Valerie and Muzio, and they meet as sleepwalkers in the nocturnal garden. This film belongs to those that are based on the idea of the power of music, but in the live music performance that concept was ignored. This film would be a great choice for a special event with Russian-Oriental themes such as by Rimsky-Korsakov.

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