Camille is a courtesan in Paris. She falls deeply in love with a young man of promise, Armand Duval. When Armand's father begs her not to ruin his hope of a career and position by marrying Armand, she acquiesces and leaves her lover. However, when poverty and terminal illness overwhelm her, Camille discovers that Armand has not lost his love for her. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
This version of Camille features Nazimova as the courtesan and Valentino as her young lover, Armand. It certainly makes for an excellent film and deserves to be viewed as an earlier rendition of the story that features a mature star opposite a rising one. I think it holds its own space next to the Garbo version, and both benefit by the comparison.
Valentino is subtle and intense, he gives a memorable performance and his presence is electric. He is much more expressive than Robert Taylor in the Garbo version. Nazimova must have been aware of his scenic power, as she chose to have him absent in the last scene, so we could concentrate on her death which was very well done. In general Nazimova tends to be over the top in the crowd scenes, but her solos or scenes with Valentino reveal subtlety and add depth to the interpretation. She is very convincing for example, in establishing the disease as a major feature in her character from the very beginning.
The story takes place in the present then 1920's and not in the 1840's. The designs for sets and dresses by Natasha Rambova are exquisite. We first see Camille at the top of a grand staircase in what we assume is the Opera, surrounded by admirers and wearing a grand gown, and wild hairstyle. The party at her house afterward is perfect in the decor and design, particularly the way we can see into her boudoir from the salon. The country scenes were beautiful as were the flashbacks into the story of Manon Lescaut, the book that is a gift from Armand, and which he reads to her in their idyllic moments, and that she will hold on to till the very end. It relates a similar life to hers in the 18th century, and we understand her predicament to be a recurring theme, as old and human as society itself. The interior scenes in the country however were too spartan and middle-class in style. And her dresses are also too plain. We find it hard to believe Marguerite could have spend so much and get so little. It does seem a perfect environment though, for Armand's conventional and small- minded father, who looks like Napoleon III in his commanding incarnation of bourgeois morality.
The gambling scene that marks her re-entry into her old life is one of the best in the film. The communication between Marguerite and Armand from across the room is as intense as if they were holding each other close. It must be seen to be understood, as no words can accurately describe the gamut of feelings rushing by the actors, it is precisely at these moments that we understand the art of the silent era, and Norma Desmond's comment in "Sunset Boulevard" :"We didn't need words, we had faces".
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