The lives of numerous people over the course of 20 years in 19th century France, weaved together by the story of an ex-convict named Jean Valjean on the run from an obsessive police inspector, who pursues him for only a minor offense.
Wazed Ali Shah is the ruler of one of the last independent kingdoms of India. The British, intent on controlling this rich country, have sent general Outram on a secret mission to clear the... See full summary »
In 1938 Austria shortly after the Nazi occupation, a prominent Viennese intellectual, Werner von Basil, is arrested for smuggling art treatures out of the country and imprisoned by the ... See full summary »
King Louis XI tries to unify France by all means fair or foul, which does not please his powerful rival Charles the Bold. It is against this troubled backdrop that the loves of the daughter... See full summary »
In the Crimea, the Reds and the Whites aren't done fighting, and Jeanne discovers that the man she loves is a Bolshevik (when he kills her father). Penniless, she returns to Paris where she... See full summary »
A young artist draws a face at a canvas on his easel. Suddenly the mouth on the drawing comes into life and starts talking. The artist tries to wipe it away with his hand, but when he looks... See full summary »
Elizabeth Lee Miller,
From 1972 until 1974, Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan, along with a Chinese film crew, documented the last days of the Cultural Revolution, marking the end of an era. The vast amount of ... See full summary »
Comparable to Abel Gance's Napoleon in its scale and stylistic bravura, this romantic epic about the Polish nobility's 1776 uprising against Catherine the Great differs from the more famous film in its lack of nationalist fervour and Tricolour bombast. Its one 'rousing battle scene' is a pure fantasy, a daydream of its naive heroine as she thumps out a patriotic hymn on her piano. This dream sequence is daringly intercut with the actual battle - a fiasco whose leaders are killed and maimed, bringing no glory to either Russian imperialists or Polish rebels.
In place of Boys Own heroics, director Raymond Bernard conjures up an eerily perverse atmosphere of ETA Hoffman-style Gothic Expressionism. The young hero's 'protector', the Baron von Kempelen, is based on a real-life inventor who stunned the courts of Europe with his life-size mechanical dolls. On the run after his abortive revolution, young Boleslav is disguised by the Baron as a chess-playing robot - not a man, but a mechanical image of one. He finds his true self, not on the battlefield, but in the wholly unreal world of chess. His sister Sophie becomes an icon of Polish liberation, not in person, but as a woven banner. Her forbidden love for a Russian officer is consummated, not in the flesh, but in a portrait he paints of her.
In short, Bernard is a film-maker in thrall to illusion - and to the inherently unreal nature of the cinematic image. At the film's climax, not one but two artificial worlds fight it out for control of the screen. A sumptuous masked ball at the Imperial Court, and the villain's showdown with Baron von Kempelen's army of automatons. History, or so Bernard seems to be saying, is not a fact but an illusion, a masquerade, a war of manufactured images that its leaders manipulate for their own ends. Heroism has nothing to do with it.
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