Thursday, February 14, 2019

Malyutka Elli / Little Ellie

Little Ellie. The opening scene. Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin, to the left) is the generous host at a dinner party in his mansion. The photos: screen caps from a low def screener from the Gosfilmofond print.

Little Ellie. Bitten by Ellie, Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin) examines his wound.

Little Ellie. Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin) and Clara (Nathalie Lissenko) study Little Ellie's portrait.

Little Ellie. Flashback: Ellie (E. Kudrova) the star student gets a diploma from the mayor (Ivan Mozzhukhin).

Little Ellie. Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin) and Clara (Nathalie Lissenko). The ghost of little Ellie will never let Fred in peace.

Little Ellie. Flashback: Fred (Ivan Mozzhukhin) first escorts, then harasses little Ellie (E. Kudrova).

Little Ellie. The Russian ending.

Ivan Mozzhukhin

Nathalie Lissenko

Малютка Элли / Maljutka Elli / Maliutka Elli / La petite Elli / [Pikku Elli].
    RU 1918. PC: T-vo I. Ermoliev. P: Iosif Ermoliev. D+SC: Yakov Protazanov – based on the short story "La petite Roque" (1886) by Guy de Maupassant, in English "Little Louise Roque", translated into Finnish by Jorma Kapari as ”Roquen tytär” (in Guy de Maupassant: Novelleja, Helsinki: Otava: Kompassikirjat, 1974). Cin: Fyodor Burgasov / Fédote Bourgassov. AD: Vladimir Ballyuzek.
    C: Ivan Mozzhukhin / Ivan Mosjoukine (Fred Norton, mayor of the municipality / maire in Maupassant's story), Natalia Lisenko / Nathalie Lissenko (Clara Clarson), E. Kudrina (Elli, Clara's little sister), Nikolai Panov (Erikson, svedovatel / police investigator), Polikarp Pavlov (Patalon), Iona Talanov (Doctor).
    Premiere: 06/01/1918.
    Originally: 6 ч., 1700 м. Cохранился не полностью: 4 части. Originally /18 fps/ 80 min
    35 mm print from Gosfilmofond: /18 fps/ 61 min
    Screened at Kino Regina, Helsinki (History of the Russian Cinema curated by Lauri Piispa) with e-subtitles in Finnish by Mia Öhman and with Johanna Pitkänen at the piano, 14 Feb 2019

"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (The Gospel according to Matthew, 18:6, King James translation)

Little Ellie, one of the six films directed by Yakov Protazanov in 1918, was produced by the same team that created Father Sergius in the same year. The producer was Iosif Ermoliev, the cinematographer Fyodor Burgasov, and the art director Vladimir Ballyuzek. Cast in both was the husband-wife team Ivan Mozzhukhin and Natalia Lisenko, also starring Nikolai Panov and Polikarp Pavlov. Protazanov (1881–1941) went to exile during the civil war but returned afterwards. Mozzhukhin (1889–1939) remained in France as did his first wife Lisenko (1884–1969).

Renowned as probably the first film on pedophilia, Little Ellie differs significantly from its source, the short story "La petite Roque" by Guy de Maupassant, but is equally unflinching about its dark themes.

The mayor of the municipality has committed the worst of crimes. The guilt on his conscience finally crushes him.

In Maupassant's story, poor Madame Roque's little daughter is swimming in a pond in the wood in summer. (Her first name Louise is mentioned only once in Maupassant's original but several times in the English translation, including in its title). In the film, Ellie is the little sister of the widowed female protagonist, the well-to-do Clara Clarson. Ellie is walking home in the winter in her winter clothes when Fred agrees to escort her along a snowy road. During the investigation that lasts over a year Fred and Clara are engaged and get married.

Interestingly, a little before Maupassant Anton Chekhov had published his detective novel The Shooting Party in 1885, sharing certain affinities. The protagonist who supervises the investigation is an authority figure, himself the offender. Both share a forest milieu central to the story and the crime. In the finale of both there is a nervous breakdown around a written confession (in Chekhov the confession is the story proper). As crime stories, both belong to the "Roger Ackroyd" tradition, also with links to Elio Petri's Kafkaesque Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.

Maupassant was a genius who created his entire vast oeuvre in ten years. The storytelling in "La petite Roque" is masterful: the style, the psychology, the ethics, the milieu, the references that go deep into French history, the blend of gravity and humour.

The murder of a young girl shatters the community to the core in a way comparable with Fritz Lang's M and David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Everybody is stricken by an unusually profound sense of terror and unease.

The character of the police investigator resembles F. M. Dostoevsky's Porfiri in Crime and Punishment, both in Maupassant's story and Protazanov's film version.

In Protazanov's film adaptation much gets thrown away. Instead of a nuanced and concrete French milieu we have a generalized international setting. Maupassant mobilizes the whole milieu for the tragedy: the mayor has his beloved ancient forest felled and intends to be crushed under the tallest tree. When that fails, he plans to perish in the high watchtower of his ancestral mansion that has belonged to his family for centuries. None of this remains in the film.

In Protazanov's film the mayor harasses the girl and kills her, but in contrast to Maupassant, no sexual act takes place. The girl remains in her winter clothes all the time.

Little Ellie is a transitional film. Much of it is in early cinema mode, based on long shots, long takes, and plan-séquence. Early-cinema strengths include a refined lightning, an engaging Stimmung, a dynamic mise-en-scène, and an assured composition in deep focus.

There are also special accents. Fred's sense of guilt seems displaced in a pain in his arm where Ellie had violently bit him trying to defend herself. There is an interesting mirror shot in extreme close-up in which Fred examines the site of the pain. The apparition of dead Ellie is conveyed via superimposition. In Maupassant's story the girl's wooden clogs have a symbolic meaning. In Protazanov, we have her knit cap.

The story proceeds both chronologically and in flashback. The more Fred remembers, the greater is his guilt and pain. Ellie was the star student. Now she appears as a ghost who will never go away. Fred cannot sleep anymore. Suicide is the only way out.

The acting is mostly in early cinema mode with heavy facial makeup and reactions telegraphed in a stylized and exaggerated fashion. At times it looks alienating, but there is a consistency of style in this mode of performance.

The Gosfilmofond print has been created from obviously difficult source materials. It looks duped but watchable. It tends towards low contrast but conveys a sense of how the original can have looked.

According to all sources the original release version had six reels, but the one preserved by Gosfilmofond has four reels only. However, the print at hand is logical and coherent. This print starts with a lively scene at a dinner table in the mayor's mansion. It ends with a startling scene in which Clara finds Fred dead in his armchair just after she has burned his letter of confession.


Jakov Protazanov (1881–1945) aloitti teatterissa, mutta huomasi pian elokuvan mahdollisuudet. Vuonna 1905 hän näytteli ensi kertaa elokuvassa (Gloria) ja vuodesta 1909 lähtien hän toimi myös käsikirjoittajana. Ensimmäinen elokuvaohjaus on vuodelta 1911, minkä jälkeen hän oli Jevgeni Bauerin rinnalla tsaarinajan Venäjän johtavia elokuvaohjaajia.
    Jakov Protazanov nojasi elokuviensa aihevalinnoissa ja ilmaisussaan perinteeseen, joka kumpusi teatterista ja erityisesti kirjallisuudesta. Korkeakirjalliset tarinat, useimmiten venäläisten klassikoiden perusteella, vahva dramaturgia ja psykologisesti vahva näyttelijäntyö leimaavat hänen elokuviaan. Maljutka Elli täyttää nuo kaikki Lauri Piispan esiin tuomat piirteet, vaikka se ei olekaan lähtökohtaisesti venäläistä vaan ranskalaista korkeakirjallisuutta. Ohjaaja Protazanovin tekemä elokuvan käsikirjoitus nimittäin perustuu Guy de Maupassantin novelliin ”Roquen tytär”.
    Korkeakirjallinen luonne ei estänyt varsin shokeeraavia aiheistoja Protazanovin elokuvissa. Pikku-Elli on murhattu ja hänen tappajaansa jäljittää pormestari Fred Norton, joka päätyy lopulta naimisiin Claran, Ellien sisaren kanssa. Paineet kasvavat liian suureksi ja Fred tunnustaa Claralle kaiken ja päätyy omaan, venäläisessä elokuvassa ei kovin harvinaiseen loppuratkaisuun.
    Pikku-Elli vuodelta 1918 lienee elokuvahistorian ensimmäinen pedofiilikuvaus. Lapsen seksuaalimurhaan syyllistynyt mies kärsii omantunnontuskien ja häpeän mutta myös paljastumisen pelon vuoksi. 

– Jari Sedergren 14.2.2019

В лесу, неподалеку от небольшого городка находят труп девушки, Элли. Клара, сестра погибшей, находясь в удрученном состоянии находит поддержку у мэра города, Нортона, который обещает сделать все возможное чтобы раскрыть это дело. Постепенно между молодыми людьми завязываются близкие отношения и они женятся. Нортон ведет себя странно и в один прекрасный момент признается Кларе, что это из-за него погибла ее сестра Элли. В тот день он встретил ее случайно в лесу и под впечатлением ее схожести с сестрой Кларой пытался насильно овладеть ею, в результате чего Элли упала и убилась. Клара в ужасе устремляется в полицию, но в последний момент передумывает и возвращается к мужу. Но уже слишком поздно, так как тот, не получив прощения жены, не выдержал и покончил с собой.

В лесу, неподалеку от небольшого городка находят труп девушки, Элли. Клара, сестра погибшей, находясь в удрученном состоянии, находит поддержку у мэра города, Нортона, который обещает сделать все возможное чтобы раскрыть это дело. Постепенно между молодыми людьми завязываются близкие отношения, они женятся. Но Нортон ведет себя странно и признается Кларе, что это из-за него погибла ее сестра.

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