Friday, October 07, 2011

Maddalena Ferat

(Caesar Film/Bertini Film, IT 1921) D: Febo Mari; based on the novel Madeleine Férat (1865) by Émile Zola; SC: Vittorio Bianchi; AD: Alfredo Manzi; cast: Francesca Bertini (Maddalena Ferat), Mario Parpagnoli (Guglielmo de Viargue), Giorgio Bonaiti (Giacomo Berthier, friend of Guglielmo), Bianca Renieri (Lisetta), Giuseppe Pierozzi (Signor de Rieu), Achille De Riso (the painter), Giovanni Gizzi (Count de Viargue), Antonietta Zanoni (Elena, De Rieu’s wife); censorship date: 1.12.1920 (no. 15601); Rome première: 5.4.1921; orig.: 1859 m (in 5 parts); 35 mm, 1200 m, 52' (20 fps), col. (tinted and toned); from: Cineteca Nazionale – Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Roma (restored 2003). Didascalie in italiano. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, 7 Oct 2011.

Aldo Bernardini (GCM Catalogue): "The chronicle of an “amour fou”, a mad love, irrational, absolute: in some ways like that which many years later would impel Adele H. in Truffaut’s 1975 film. Febo Mari clearly felt himself at ease with Vittorio Bianchi’s adaptation of the Zola novel: in many ways it recalls an earlier film which had established his fortune as an actor, Pastrone’s Il fuoco (1916), for which Mari himself had written the story and script. Mari clearly loved excess: and this time in place of an unbridled Menichelli he found a Francesca Bertini at the peak of her divistic career. Nevertheless he succeeds in controlling her in a balanced performance: only in the finale does he permit her to abandon herself to a spectacular death scene, concluding with arms outstretched, which in some respects recalls another, earlier classic of frock-coat cinema, Caserini’s Ma l’amor mio non muore! (1913) – but there the protagonist was the “divine” Borelli. The story is rich in interesting dramaturgical cues: from the encounter of two opposed characters (Giacomo, extrovert and relaxed, and Guglielmo, a nice fellow but a bit awkward) to the characterization of Guglielmo’s home environment, with grotesque and reassuring winks at the expense of petit-bourgeois life (Genoveffa, who spends the evening insistently reading the Bible to the fleeing family, the deaf and distracted Signor de Rieu) to the games of the couples (Giacomo with Maddalena, Lisetta with the painter) and of infidelity observed and accepted. Bianchi’s script again presents situations and dialogues which reveal the taste for excess (even to the extent, at a crucial moment, of giving Bertini the same histrionic line – “trample me, kill me, forget the past” – which she had used in a film released a few months earlier, La serpe)."

"But Febo Mari was not Roberti; his expressive world is much more elaborate, and not reliant on stereotypes. We see how the atmosphere of light comedy in the first part is not without warning signals (for example the pharmacy, with the case of poisons in clear view; the wildness of the natural elements which anticipates the trauma of Giacomo’s departure for Cochin China; the references to the biblical episode of the sinner Magdalene, etca. ), which irrevocably lead on to precipitate the events of the final part, from the reappearance, after four years, of Giacomo, believed to have died in a shipwreck: his return shatters the equilibrium which Guglielmo and Maddalena, happily married, have passively achieved, and the crisis explodes after the woman’s inevitable confession of a “guilty” past (so that Guglielmo, ever more devastated, even doubts that their daughter is his). Maddalena’s obsessive love for Giacomo suddenly reawakens, wild and uncontrollable: not motivated by a story which in the first part has described the meeting of Giacomo and Maddalena as an escapade (even if the man had admitted: “We have committed a very grave error”). At this point the contradictory behaviour of the protagonist is somewhat unexplained, as she first tries to distance Giacomo from her life in restoring her relations with Guglielmo, and then resigns herself to fate: first joining the lover at the inn for a final night of love, and then taking poison."

"The film, one of the best in the filmographies of Mari and Bertini from the perspective of the early 1920s, is therefore interesting in many ways: the photography (rich in lighting and colour effects), the editing, the selective use of close-ups, the acting of the central figures and character players, are all ingredients used by the the director at his best to tell a story of absorbing complexity (despite the considerable lacunae in the present copy, which was most likely saved in extremis). Finally to be noted is the risky theological thesis proposed at the end to explain the protagonist’s autopunitive choice: unlike Jesus, who pardoned the Magdalene, “God does not forgive.” – Aldo Bernardini

AA: A tragedy, a Francesca Bertini vehicle produced by her. The print is incomplete, but the missing parts have been covered with intertitles. Yet there is a feeling that this film is not a story-driven but Francesca Bertini driven. It is a showcase for the wide range of Bertini's talent from comedy to tragedy. There are moments of love (the night in the hay), extreme agony ("Calpestami! Uccidimi!"), a rape sequence and finally the suicide via poison. "Memory follows us everywhere. You cannot wipe out memory". A heavily tinted print, evidently as good as it gets.

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