Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Santarellina / Mam'zelle Nitouche (1912)

(Ambrosio, IT 1912) D: Mario Caserini; SC: Alberto A. Capozzi, Arrigo Frustra, based on the operetta Mam’zelle Nitouche (1883) by Henri Meilhac, Albert Millaud (M: Hervé); DP: Giuseppe Angelo Scalenghe; cast: Gigetta Morano (Denise / Mam’zelle Nitouche), Ercole Vaser (Celestino / Floridor), Mario Bonnard (Lieutenant Fernando), Cesare Zocchi (il maggiore / Major Chateaugibus), Lina Gobbi Cavicchioli (la Madre Badessa / Mother Superior), Maria Brioschi (Corinna), Umberto Scalpellini, Ernesto Vaser; orig.: 882 m; 35 mm, 871 m, 44' (17 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet method); from: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam (printed 2011, from an original nitrate print held by Lobster Films, Paris). Sous-titres français. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Italian Cinema: Gigetta Morano), e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 4 Oct 2011.

David Robinson (GCM Catalogue): "The rediscovery of Santarellina is a precious contribution to our knowledge of early Italian cinema, since this long-lost film was regarded both by critics of its time and by subsequent historians as Italy’s first sophisticated light comedy. Aniello Costagliola (Cinema, Naples, 10 April 1912) regarded it as great but fortunate audacity on the part of the Ambrosio company: “It takes a good deal of courage […] to launch on the film market, entirely invaded by the applauded and profitable horrors of interminable convoluted and gory dramas, a light comedy, moreover at the length of three acts, and further still, delicate and restrained in its comedy style. In the cinema the comic film is tolerated only if it is short, and saturated with the most unrealistic buffooneries of Signor Cretinetti and Signor Tontolini.”"

"Georges Sadoul regarded Santarellina as Caserini’s best film, and perceived in it anticipations of Lubitsch: “It is unlikely that the German director could have been influenced by Caserini. But their source is the same: the boulevard theatre, whether of Paris or Central Europe.” The story stays fairly faithful to the Meilhac and Millaud book for the 1883 operetta, which had enjoyed success on the Italian stage. Denise is a student in a convent. Lieutenant Fernando is permitted to propose to her, but they may only speak through a screen. Denise discovers that Celestino, the music teacher in the college, has written an operetta, Babet et Cadet, under the pseudonym of Floridor, and accompanies him to the premiere. Corinna, the principal actress, storms out, jealous when she sees Floridor with Denise. Denise takes over her role as Santarellina, and is a huge success, attracting the attention not only of Fernando (who does not recognize her as his fiancée) but also of Fernando’s superior officer Major Chateaugibus, the admirer of Corinna. Aided by Fernando, Floridor and Denise take refuge in a cavalry barracks, and subsequently return to the convent, where Denise pretends she wants to become a nun. Fernando, now in love with Santarellina, decides he must give up the never-seen Denise. The screen scene is repeated, but this time the lovers at once recognize each other and are happily united. The Bioscope (London, 28 March 1912) found the work “an almost perfect subject for presentation silently. It is full of movement, crowded with situations whose humour is obvious without the aid of speech… In many respects it is the best thing yet done by this company.”"

"Critics of the time were united in their praise for the naturalistic yet picturesque staging, the characters, and the performances. The greatest enthusiasm however was reserved for Gigetta Morano as Denise/Santarellina: “supreme among all, the roguish little ‘Ma’mselle Nitouche’ herself, one of the most delightfully odd, pleasing, and clever persons who have ever figured in a picture play anywhere, at any time. One can scarcely praise too highly the performance of the actress who sustains this particularly difficult part. She manages to infuse it with a perfectly astonishing realism and charm.” (The Bioscope)"

"Luigia “Gigetta” Morano (1887-1986) is one of the most endearing figures of the early Italian cinema, and a refreshing contrast to the glowering dive who were her contemporaries. Born in Verona, she moved with her family to Turin, where she began her career as an amateur actress. There she met the director Luigi Maggi, who introduced her to Arturo Ambrosio. Given a contract in 1909, the following year she progressed to leading roles in the character of Gigetta, providing a worthy comedy partner to Robinet (Marcel Fabre) and Rodolfi (Eleuterio Rodolfi). Her popularity soared with Santarellina, and enabled her to broaden her range beyond comedy. Her career lasted until 1921 and Più che il sole; but a small, uncredited role in Fellini’s I vitelloni (1953) resulted in a few further appearances in the 1960s. In 1985, close to her centenary, she recorded a video interview for the Giornate del Cinema Muto, with the late Alberto Farassino, in which she movingly recalled the experiments and glories of the cinema of her youth."

"The critics of 1912 marvelled particularly that Santarellina could maintain the audience’s interest for so long a time (“Indeed, its gaiety and charm,” said The Bioscope, “are so infectious that one’s chief feeling when it is finished is a keen regret that there is no more to come.”). Several reports state that the film ran for an hour, which raises an interesting point of technical history: to achieve this running time, its 882 metres would have had to be projected at only 13 frames per second."

"The operetta was to inspire three subsequent films, respectively directed by Marc Allégret (1931), Yves Allégret (1954), and – in Denmark, as Frøken Nitouche (1963) – by Annelise Reenberg." David Robinson

AA: The light touch of this (silent musical) comedy is delightful and can be compared with the musical comedies of Lubitsch and Ophuls. There is a consistent sense of the joy of life in the movie. There is also a cross-dressing motif as Denise of the nuns' schools has to dress as a cavalry soldier and do stable duty. The fun starts already during the opening credits, which are meant to be sung.

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