Monday, October 07, 2013

Förseglade läppar / Sealed Lips (2009 print from SFI Filmarkivet)

FÖRSEGLADE LÄPPAR (Sinetöidyt huulet / Sealed Lips / Versiegelte Lippen / Lèvres closes) [Labbra sigillate] (AB Isepa / National-Film AG / Les Films Albatros, SE/DE/FR, 1927) D: Gustaf Molander; SC: Paul Merzbach - a reference to the short story "Premier neige" (1883) by Guy de Maupassant; DP: J. Julius [Julius Jaenzon]; C: Mona Mårtenson (Angela), Louis Lerch (Frank Wood, un artista/an artist), Stina Berg (suor/Sister Scolastica), Edvin Adolphson (Giambatista), Karin Swanström (zia/Aunt Peppina), Sandra Milowanoff (Marian Wood, moglie dell’artista/the artist’s wife); 35 mm, 2461 m, 120' (18 fps); print source: Filmarkivet vid Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm. Swedish intertitles. Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in English and Italian, grand piano and accordeon: Stephen Horne, 7 Oct 2013

Jon Wengström: "A prime example of the international ambitions of AB Svensk Filmindustri at the time, Förseglade läppar (Sealed Lips) was again produced by the studio’s special co-production branch AB Isepa, under the auspices of Oscar Hemberg. The film is set in the Italian countryside with a partly international cast, and the somewhat contrived story of a young nun-to-be who is nearly raped by her uncle and falls in love with an English painter was again conceived by Austrian scriptwriter Paul Merzbach, who was specifically hired by Isepa to write scripts with an international touch."

"Despite the plot’s incredible turn of events, some of the scenes between Mona Mårtenson’s young nun and Louis Lerch’s painter are moving, aided by the cinematography of Julius Jaenzon, who was equally at home with artificial lighting in studio sets depicting the aunt’s osteria and in the confines of the nunnery as when capturing the sunlit hillsides of Lake Como. The dramatic highlight in the snow at the painter’s English home is cleverly staged by director Molander. A well-crafted and well-played melodrama with some very memorable moments, there is of course nothing at all in the film that reveals it as a Swedish production, which of course was AB Svensk Filmindustri’s intention when setting up AB Isepa for their international co- productions. To a Swedish audience at the time it may have been strange to see Edvin Adolphson and Karin Swanström running an Italian osteria. The tobacco-snorting, donkey-driving nun is played by Stina Berg, one of the finest supporting actresses of her time, always providing the goods whether she plays an Italian nun, a rich spinster looking for love in a winter-sports resort (Polis Paulus’ påskasmäll / The Smugglers), the proprietress of a Parisian bistro (Synd / Sin), or a caring nanny (Hans engelska fru / Matrimony)."

"Volume 2 of the Swedish Filmography, covering 1920-29, names the German company National-Film AG as this film’s only foreign production partner, but documents preserved among the non- film collections of the Cinémathèque française, including contracts signed by AB Isepa’s managing director Oscar Hemberg, confirm that Förseglade läppar was also co-produced by Les Film Albatros. The famous French studio set up by Russian émigrés provided actress Sandra Milowanoff for the part of the crippled wife of the painter, a role played by Austrian-born actor Louis Lerch, who a few months earlier was Don José in Jacques Feyder’s prestigious Albatros production of Carmen (1926) starring Raquel Meller."

"The Print A duplicate negative was made from a nitrate print with Swedish intertitles in 1965; a new print was struck from the duplicate negative in 2009." – Jon Wengström (The GCM Catalogue)

AA: Gustaf Molander directs with a fluent touch an entertaining film for international distribution.

Molander is a master with female stars. Mona Mårtenson was one of the discoveries of Mauritz Stiller (in Gösta Berlings saga), and she had been very good with Molander in his Jerusalem sequels Ingmarsarvet and Till Österland. She was also a touching Laila, directed by George Schnéevoigt. In Förseglade läppar Mona Mårtenson carries the film. Her beautiful, expressive face stands out in Molander's sensitive direction.

Another memorable performance is that of Sandra Milowanoff as Marian Wood, crippled in a car accident. The most powerful sequence is the one where she reads Maupassant's "Premier neige", and when the first snow falls commits suicide by exposing herself to the cold on the balcony. Briefly I was thinking about L'innocente.

Molander was a Maupassantian. As his last film he shot "La parure" for the episode film Stimulantia, starring Ingrid Bergman (who had been his discovery in the 1930s).

The cinematography of Julius Jaenzon is splendid.

The repeated scenes of Mona Mårtenson trying to catch a train already on the move on the station were inevitable reminders of Louise Brooks's similar scenes last night in Beggars of Life.

It's a pity that Paul Merzbach is not on the level of Gustaf Molander himself as a screenwriter. The storytelling is smooth, elegant and efficient but without a tragic sense of urgency. The film is too long at 120 minutes, the atmosphere of lying gets slightly tedious, and there is not quite enough substance to carry the slowness.

The restoration is excellent with an often brilliant quality of imagery, sometimes a slightly duped look due to the condition of the source material with also fleeting marks of water or nitrate damage.

Mona Mårtenson, Louis Lerch - photo: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm © 1927 AB Svensk Filmindustri. All rights reserved.

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