Sunday, October 02, 2011

La serpe / [The Snake]

(Caesar Film / Bertini Film, IT 1920) D: Roberto Roberti; story: Sandro Salvini, Vittorio Bianchi; ad., SC: Vittorio Bianchi; DP: Alberto Carta; AD: Alfredo Manzi; cast: Francesca Bertini (Naia), Sandro Salvini (Mario Sirchi), Emma Farnesi (Adonella Arsendi), Vittorio Bianchi (Bertrando Arsendi, banker), Duilio Marrazzi, Raoul Maillard, Luigi Cigoli, Luigi Farnesi; censor date: 1.1.1920 (no. 14749); Rome premiere: 1.3.1920; orig.: 1580 m (in 4 parts); 35 mm, 1050 m, 51' (18 fps), col. (tinted and toned, Desmet method); from: Cineteca Nazionale – Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Roma. Restoration: Cineteca Bologna, 2010. Didascalie in italiano. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Cinema italiano: Francesca Bertini), with e-subtitles in English, grand piano: Antonio Coppola, 2 Oct 2011.

Aldo Bernardini (GCM Catalogue): "A classic melodrama made by the Caesar-Film team (director, scenarist, cinematographer, designer), which was exclusively devoted to nourishing the divistic aura of Francesca Bertini. To the character of the fatal beauty which the prima donna of the company had created, film after film added the allegorical image at the centre of this story, that of the donna-serpe (snake-woman), who first enchants and then devours her victim. A pity that the idea on which it is based this time should be in substance a fairly improbable idea: Naia – a girl with a fascinating name, but so wild as to merit the nickname of “la serpe” (“the snake”) – comes to believe (how, we never know) that the composer Mario Sirchi is guilty of the death of her father, who is also the father of her half-sister Adonella. The poor fellow is in fact innocent, but abandons fiancée and homeland rather than besmirch the honour of a family compromised by the true culprit. Inconsolable, he finally returns home after a lively stay in the United States, but must submit first to Naia’s seductive assault and then her vindictive fury, which succeeds in landing him, once again innocent, in prison. After which, repentant perhaps (the last scenes are missing), the snake-woman concedes to her victim the privilege of pardon and renewed amorous fulfilment."

"Here are, in short, all the ingredients of the cinema in frac (“tail-coat cinema”) genre, which reveal the threadbare depiction of characters, and the sentiments and ambience totally unrelated to everyday reality, with idle young people, voluptuous women, and mature dandies in tails who indulge their every whim. In the hands of the director Roberti, her faithful servant, the diva queens it from beginning to end in a series of close-ups, which catch her first as a young girl immersed in the pleasures of the countryside (where she has been relegated by her father, who has not recognized her as his daughter), then suddenly elevated to a lady of society, dressed in high fashion, and shown, with her eternal scowl, in violent chiaroscuro and chromatic effects chosen for her by the cameraman Alberto Carta. Adapting to the various shifts in the artificial lifestyle in which she is placed, the character (who remains in the wings in the first part, and irrupts into the foreground in the second) nevertheless emanates a certain decadent fascination, thanks to some interesting narrative ingredients (like the use of the music, the melancholy “nocturne” for violin composed and performed at key moments by the male protagonist, or the lighting and design effects of crucial scenes, which remove the mask and gestures of the actress from all demands of credibility), and to the counterpoint between the excesses of Bertini and the ingenuous acting of the male second leads. One can understand how in its time a film like this succeeded in exciting its admirers, despite the increasingly persistent hostility of the critics towards the decline of a style which a few years earlier had achieved some results of great quality. The print unfortunately has substantial lacunae, which however do not considerably compromise the narrative flow." – Aldo Bernardini

AA: A Francesca Bertini star extravaganza. Aldo Bernardini hits it on the head of the nail in his review above. In La serpe one can abandon all hope for narrative credibility or realistic psychology. This is a film of decadence and grand diva moments, a Francesca Bertini production where she flourishes and everything else withers. The father believes that the violin-playing Mario Sirchi is the culprit to the business swindle which ruins him while Mario has in fact been framed by the father's trusted business associates. Francesca Bertini relishes in flaunting the evil of Naia, the snake woman, even torturing insects and harassing cats. The same business continues with men. My favourite moment is after the shipwreck, when the snake Naia awakens from her torpor. She strikes an imperial vamp pose, equipped with a long cigarette holder. Another moment is her revelation to Mario, who she thinks has ruined not only her father's but also her stepsister Adonella's life: Naia tears the strings off Mario's violin. Before going to jail Mario actually detect's a viper's bite marks in his hand. "Le due prigioni": Mario in jail, Naia in her castle, a victim of her evil misunderstanding. Bertini is a master of the direct camera look in this movie, she speaks with her eyes directly with us. The conclusion takes place in a cheap bar where Mario gets drunk, but hearing his composition "La serpe" Naia finally breaks into tears. "La serpe incantata".

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