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The business tycoon Nicolas Saccard is nearly ruined by his rival Gunderman, when he tries to raise capital for his company. To push up the price of his stock, Saccard plans a publicity stunt involving the aviator Jacques Hamelin flying across the Atlantic to Guyana and drilling for oil there, much to the dismay of Hamelin's wife Line. While Hamelin is away, Saccard tries to seduce Line. Line finally realizes that she and her husband were pawns in Saccard's scheme, and she accuses him of stock fraud. Written by
Even in its truncated 165-minute cut, the visual splendor of "L'Argent" blazes out loud and clear. Seldom has cinema, let alone silent cinema, been so thrilling: witness the scene where Line Hamelin looks down from the building at the huge masses of crowds celebrating her husband's record aviation flight across the Atlantic, with Saccard looking sinisterly at her. The play of light and shadows, the modern editing and the huge, massive, almost surreal sets give full justice to this adaptation of Emile Zola's novel of the same name. It would be possible to imagine this film made in the 1960s or 1970s if one slaps a synchronized soundtrack on it. Critics gave this film a mixed review when it was first screened in 1928. More than 80 years later, you would be forgiven for thinking: what were they thinking?
L'Herbier's "L'Argent" is a cinematic masterpiece, supported by an impressive cast, great acting, naturalistic sets and an originality and daring in a director seldom matched in the silent movie era. That a silent film can support such rich, novelistic texture is surprising. Also, L'Herbier's eye for cinematic ingenuities is unerring; the fresh image is always there to appeal to the eye, while the storyline grips one relentlessly. In my opinion, there are only three or four silent cinematic films which can match "L'Argent" in ambition or execution: Abel Gance's "Napoleon", Dreyer's "La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc", Lang's "Metropolis"...
Certainly a masterpiece. Do watch it if you can get the DVD. I'm certain another 50 years down the road, this film will still be as celebrated, if not even more so.
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