Saturday, October 08, 2016

Mocny człowiek / [A Strong Man]

Agnes Kuck as Łucja who condemns her boyfriend Henryk when he publishes his dead friend's novel under his own name in Mocny człowiek (PL 1929), photo: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa. Please do click on the images to enlarge them!
In the editing room of Mocny człowiek (PL 1929), photo: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa.

MOCNY CZŁOWIEK [L’uomo forte / A Strong Man] (PL 1929). D: Henryk Szaro. SC: Jerzy Braun, Henryk Szaro, based on the novel by Stanisław Przybyszewski. Cin: Giovanni Vitrotti. AD: Hans Rouc. Ass D: Jan Belina. C: Grigorij [Grzegorz] Chmara (Henryk Bielecki, writer), Agnes Kuck (Łucja, Bielecki’s lover), Julian Krzewiński (Ligęza, landowner), Maria Majdrowicz (Nina, Ligęza’s wife), Artur Socha (Jerzy Górski, writer), Stanisława Wysocka (Bielecki’s grandmother), Bolesław Mierzejewski (theatre director), Janina Romanówna (Nastka Żegota, actress), Aleksander Zelwerowicz (publisher), Jan Kurnakowicz (secretary), Ludwik Fritsche (usurer), Jerzy Dworski (Karewicz), Lech Owron (actor), Władysław Walter (janitor). PC: Gloria. Rel: 10.2.1929. 35 mm, 2146 m, 81' (24 fps); titles: POL. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa (preserved 1998)
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Polonia.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 8 Oct 2016.

Michał Pabiś-Orzeszyna: "Long before its premiere in the autumn of 1929, when Warsaw audiences first saw Henryk Szaro’s A Strong Man (Mocny człowiek), a film with the same title was released in St Petersburg. Vsevolod Meyerhold’s A Strong Man (Sil’nyi chelovek) came out in 1917, also in the autumn, and was the second film, after The Picture of Dorian Gray (Portet Doriana Greya, 1915), directed by the noted theatrical innovator."

"Like Szaro’s film, Meyerhold’s Strong Man was based on the novel by Polish modernist, bon vivant, and philosopher Stanisław Przybyszewski. The Polish writer had frequently been approached to adapt his story, but he held out until an offer came from the cosmopolitan community of Russian theatrical experimenters. Przybyszewski was well-acquainted with their work, specifically with Meyerhold, as ten years earlier the Russian had staged one of his dramas in St. Petersburg. While Meyerhold’s film unfortunately doesn’t survive, it still constitutes an important milestone for understanding the later Polish feature film."

"A Strong Man is the story of Henryk Bielecki, lacking in literary talent, who treacherously murders his friend in order to appropriate the authorship of an unpublished type-script. The only person who knows his secret is his partner Łucja. The book that he’s stolen, entitled A Strong Man, becomes a bestseller, thus bringing the false author fame and for tune. Bielecki acquires high social status, receives of fers to adap this book for the stage, and has an af fair with a married woman, Nina Ligęza. As his situation becomes increasingly complicated, Bielecki is forced to commit more and more crimes, which awakens his conscience, leading to a dramatic ending."

"The films by Meyerhold and Szaro are similar not only in title and plot, but also because of the transnational interplay of styles and production crews, so emblematic of Polish cinema as a whole during the interwar period. This allows us to interpret Szaro’s version as an effort to more accurately realize a cosmopolitan aesthetic within Polish cinema."

"Szaro himself used to be Meyerhold’s student, and was therefore very familiar not only with the creative world of the theatrical fringe in St. Petersburg, but with recent avant-garde artistic developments in both Germany and Russia. Moreover, some of the production team behind his Strong Man were also closely involved in this new school of thought. These include director of photography Giovanni Vitrotti (1874–1966), who began with Ambrosio and had already shothundreds of movies in Italy and Germany; art director Hans Rouc (1893-1963), who worked with Robert Wiene; and leading actor Gregori Chmara (1878–1970), veteran of Wiene’s I.N.R.I. and Raskolnikow, among other Weimar titles, and a follower of both Konstantin Stanislavski and Meyerhold (Chmara was also Asta Nielsen’s lover). Several of these figures made further films in Poland, attesting to a certain international characteristic of Polish cinema, which frequently imported not just personnel but stylistic developments."

"The engagement of such a cosmopolitan creative team brought a distinctive international flavour to the film, which Szaro clearly fostered. Through numerous expressionistic techniques such as double exposure and a pronounced use of cross-cutting, one can recognize the aesthetics of the city symphony films, exemplified in the sequence showing a theatre premiere. Foreign influences can be seen not only in the visuals, sets, and editing, but also the staging itself. Szaro was notably inspired by Meyerhold’s aesthetics, visible in the measured movement of actors across the sets. At the same time, these unusual means of expression don’t interfere with the film’s quite traditional genre classif ication, and in Polish cinemas it was screened as a melodrama."

"A number of critics thought the movie had the potential to go beyond the Polish film market . Stefania Heymanowa, one of the more powerful critics, wrote in Bluszcz, “it could easily reach any European big screen and should find admirers everywhere.” Such a judgment was due not only to the “international” visual layer of the movie, but also its “non-national” script. The adaptation of Przybyszewski’s book – completed by another Polish modernist, Andrzej Strug – included updating the story and removing parts that strongly related to Polish national culture. On this basis it was decided to distribute the film abroad; however, its reach has yet to be established."

"For many years the film was considered lost. A print was discovered in 1997 at the Cinémathèque Royale in Belgium, but it remains incomplete.
" – Michał Pabiś-Orzeszyna

AA: There is an affinity in the storyline with one of the stories in Woody Allen's multi-character study You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) and with Georg af Klercker's Nattliga toner [Nocturnal Tones] (1918) which was one of Ingmar Bergman's favourite films.

Henryk steals his dying friend's novel manuscript, publishes it in his own name, and it becomes a bestseller. However, when it is being dramatized for the theatre people get increasingly aware of the fraud ("Why is his talent so unexpectedly developed?"), and the tension gets too much to bear. "Author! Author!" is heard at the premiere. Henryk steps forward, confesses the truth and commits suicide with a bullet in his brain.

A film with interesting lyrical passages, hallucinations, bold trick effects, and montages of superimpositions. The culminating "play within the play" with Expressionist emphases is the strongest sequence. At about 22 minutes reels were switched and screened in the wrong order with the result that also the subtitling was off for a while, hampering a full reception of this film somewhat, while the film also remains incomplete.

A valuable restoration / reconstruction from challenging sources often in high contrast and with a duped look. Worthwhile all the same.

Filmoteka Narodowa website:

O filmie
Pisarz Henryk Bielecki doprowadza do śmierci przyjaciela, by ukraść rękopis jego książki. Wydaje ją pod własnym nazwiskiem i zdobywa sławę. Jednak przed jej sceniczną premierą tajemnice Bieleckiego zaczynają wychodzić na jaw...
Pierwowzór literacki: Stanisław Przybyszewski, „Mocny człowiek"
Scenografia: Hans Rouc
Czas akcji: lata 20. XX w.
Miejsce akcji: Warszawa
Kierownik produkcji: Marek Libkow
Produkcja: Gloria
Prawa: dzieło osierocone (dyspozytariusz Filmoteka Narodowa)
Dźwięk: brak
Format klatki: 4:3
Język: pl

Grzegorz Chmara (Henryk Bielecki), Agnes Kuck (Łucja, kochanka Bieleckiego), Julian Krzewiński (Ligęza, obywatel ziemski), Maria Majdrowicz (Nina, żona Ligęzy), Artur Socha (Jerzy Górski, literat), Stanisława Wysocka (babka Bieleckiego), Bolesław Mierzejewski (dyrektor teatru), Janina Romanówna (Nastka Żegota), Aleksander Zelwerowicz (wydawca), Jan Kurnakowicz (sekretarz), Ludwik Fritsche (lichwiarz), Jerzy Dworski (Karewicz), Lech Owron (aktor), Władysław Walter (woźny teatralny), Tekla Trapszo (gospodyni domu na Ogrodowej), Tadeusz Fijewski (boy w Hotelu Europejskim), Jan Dobracki (charakteryzator w teatrze), Roman Dereń (lokaj w Hotelu Europejskim).

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