Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2013: Pordenone post No 5

Giornate 32

Today at the Giornate was dominated by the early evening show – the premiere of Orson Welles’s lost-and found experiment Too Much Johnson (1938). So much so that it gets its own post to itself. For everything else from day five at Pordenone, read on …

My Wednesday began, as Tuesday had ended, on the street corners of Weimar Berlin, with Gerhard Lamprecht. Die Verrufenen (The Slums of Berlin/The Fifth Estate, 1925) was not as immaculate as Unter der Laterne, which I adored, but it was close. It’s another social problem film – the issue here being the struggles faced by prisoners on release. Our hero is a middle-class engineer emerging from a short sentence for perjury: dumped, disowned and unemployed, he finds himself suddenly among the “outcasts” in the slum districts. You may raise a cynical eyebrow and suggest that the posh boy lands on his feet and does rather better for himself than his fellow down-and-outs. Your assumptions would be correct. A (mostly) vividly drawn cast of characters, some poignant confrontations and yet more wonderful child performances tugged at my heartstrings and overcame my scepticism, though. Excellent, excellent stuff.

Le Marchand des Poupées (1913) Collection EYE
Le Marchand des Poupées (1913) Collection EYE

More anguish was to come as the theme of the collection of early films in the Rediscoveries strand was “Suffering men”. The motif played out in many unexpected forms, including comedies (Kri Kri battles toothache, Max Linder and Polidor contemplate suicide) and dramas (a chemist accidentally sends poison in place of medicine to a sick patient, a doll salesman grieves his daughter). In Louis Feuillade’s Le Pain Quotidien (1911) a working woman is persuaded to give up her job so that a man, whose need is greater, can take it, albeit on her reduced, feminine salary. Surely next year she will crop up in a batch titled “Suffering women”?

Nichnyi Viznyk (The Night Coachman, 1929) Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kiev
Nichnyi Viznyk (The Night Coachman, 1929) Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kiev

I saw just two more films on Wednesday, not counting the Welles. One marvellous, one not so much. Nichnyi Viznyk (The Night Coachman, 1929) from the Ukrainian strand was to my mind a rather overdone drama about a father, a daughter, a difference of ideological opinion – and a Bolshevik named Borys hiding in the hay loft. It didn’t really inspire me, but I am reluctant to say anything unkind about it, not least because it had such a thrilling ending. Fantastic musical accompaniment from dapper Ukrainian musician Arseniy Trofim, too.

Elissa Landi, Anita Hugo, Gustaf Molander and Julius Jaenzon during the shooting of Synd (1928) Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm ©1928 AB Svensk Filmindustri. All rights reserved.
Elissa Landi, Anita Hugo, Gustaf Molander and Julius Jaenzon during the shooting of Synd (1928) Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm ©1928 AB Svensk Filmindustri. All rights reserved.

The Swedish programme goes from strength to strength, and the afternoon screening of Synd (Sin, 1928), which reunited Neil brand with Underground star Elissa Landi, was a triumph. Synd is an unusual, wonderful film, directed by a name we are now very familiar with: Gustaf Molander. A Strindberg adaptation set among the arty set in Paris, chiefly in the home of an egotistical aspiring playwright and his helpmeet wife, it begins with the dry fizz of a 1930s Hollywood sex comedy, but the light touch doesn’t last for long. Lars Hanson, clearly most at home exulting with his arms flung wide, plays the writer, Maurice, and Landi his missus. After he falls for the temptations of his leading actress (French star Gina Manès) the sparkle is replaced with bitterness: Landi is heartbroken and a Very Bad Thing seems to have happened. Cue a pre-Rashomon sequence in a police station in which events are played and replayed from different witnesses’ perspectives: with or without Expressionist lighting as the case may be. No Karin Swanström in this one, but Stina Berg as the local café owner was a delight. I must admit, though, we weren’t fans of the ending: there were howls, actual howls from the row in front of mine.

Intertitle of the day

“Do you hear that sound from afar? It’s all of Paris, whispering my name.” Maurice in Synd has a high opinion of himself after his first night.

Musical in-joke of the day

Gustav in Die Verrufenen picks up his father’s old accordion and what does he play? “Drink, drink, brothers, drink … ” of course. From Unter der Laterne.

Neologism of the day

Porde-moany. Noun: the almost imperceptible murmur of tuts and sighs that ripples through Teatro Verdi at the slightest hint of a technical hitch.

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