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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Valentino was still something of an unknown quantity when this film was made, and although it was adapted from the screen by his mentor June Mathis and designed by his wife Natasha Rambova, CAMILLE is not a Valentino film. It belongs instead to Alla Nazimova, whose eccentric charm that combined both frantic gaiety and an exhausted world-weariness made her the most highly regarded "high-art" performer of her day.
Surely by now every one knows at least the basic outline of the story, which French author Dumas drew from life: Marguerite Gautier (Nazimova) is a celebrated courtesan who despises her life and yet cannot break free of it. When confronted with true love in the form of society youth Armand (Valentino), however, she attempts to leave her past behind--only to be convinced by her lover's father that if she really loves Armand she must leave him that he might take his rightful place in society. She returns to her old life, where she dies of consumption with her one true love's name upon her lips.
Nazimova, who is credited with introducing the Russian "method" to the New York stage, is an extremely interesting Camille. Unlike the later Garbo, she offers us a truly neurotic creature who in public screams with nervous energy--and then in private collapses under the twin weights of self-loathing and her increasing illness. At times her performance goes as far over the top as her hairstyle, but the cumulative result is exceptionally affecting. Valentino is typically Valentino, with an intriguing presence that relies more upon appearance than actual skill, and his performance adds no significant dimension to the part of Armand; this may, however, be an unfair criticism, for the role is notoriously thankless.
Rambova's strange set design for Marguerite's apartment is a highlight of the film and worth studying, very 1920s modern and yet still far advanced of anything commonly seen in even contemporary decor, and the cinematography gives CAMILLE an effectively lyrical feel. All in all, the film might best be considered as a high-art experiment that does not entirely come off, but even so it gives us the opportunity to see Nazimov near the height of her appeal, and as such is recommended to all silent film fans.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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