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William A. Wellman
Nekhlyudov, a Russian nobleman serving on a jury, discovers that the young girl on trial, Katusha, is someone he once seduced and abandoned and that he himself bears responsibility for reducing her to crime. He sets out to redeem her and himself in the process. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
They Live Again, He Lives Again, It Lives Again...
When we consider such a classic writer as Leo Tolstoy, what we recall are, practically, two titles: WAR AND PEACE and ANNA KARENINA. We exclude other of his great works, for instance his last novel RESURRECTION.
The same thing seems to take place in cinema. While WAR AND PEACE and ANNA KARENINA are perhaps the two most popular screen adaptations of the great Russian writer, Tolstoy's 1899 novel occurs to be marginalized. Yet, the movie buff who not only obeys the rule of "fame wins popularity" but looks for something according to his/her preferences will find absolutely overwhelming films that may be watched and admired within the commercial walls of modern reality. One of such films is, undoubtedly, WE LIVE AGAIN (1934) by the innovative director Rouben Mamoulian, the film based on the aforementioned 1899 novel by Leo Tolstoy titled RESURRECTION.
If we consider the master director Rouben Mamoulian and the unusual way he handled his direction (just to mention some of his greatest movies like APPLAUSE, QUEEN Christina, DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, THE MARK OF ZORRO), we also notice that WE LIVE AGAIN is somehow underestimated and skipped. Nevertheless, if you are quite knowledgeable about Mamoulian's touch and once decide to see this film, you quickly realize that WE LIVE AGAIN appears to be no exception from the rest.
We are supplied with a wonderfully poetic handling of the story with excellent camera work and unforgettable scenes. From the very beginning that introduces viewers to the images of awakening nature in fields and blossoming trees, we clearly get a true rarity, something precious, artistic that, unfortunately, has not always been a desirable goal in cinema. The Russia of the 1870s is vividly depicted with its injustice, corruption and inequalities. There is a fabulous moment showing people hugging one another and saying "Christ is risen" on Easter Vigil. Something the code years in cinema really loved. Yet, within the decadence of conventions, does the proclamation convey anything more than a sheer slogan? The later story shows it does... The depiction of the social injustice expressed in the visual moment of the camera moving from a poor pot of prisoners' food to the lavish tables of aristocracy is another powerful merit of the movie. That was Mamoulian with his unbelievable flair for poetic view, poetic image; he talks to our hearts through image.
However, it is not only the director with his magical touch who makes the movie a true pleasure to watch. It is Fredric March in the lead as Prince Dmitri. Although some reviewers have already discussed his merits, I would like to highlight a point that, perhaps, has not been sufficiently examined yet. What makes March's performance so unique is not the actor's experience with the director Mamoulian two years earlier while working on the classic DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE. Of course, that experience is one of the reasons for his fluent acting here but not the only reason indeed. It is neither any crucial moment in the actor's career, according to some confusing statements, as if at that moment (1934) Fredric March found himself between great director (Mamoulian) and great writer (Tolstoy). What makes the portrayal unique is a change of heart, a spiritual transformation that March beautifully executes. Having had experience with that sort of content in THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932) by Cecil B DeMille (some critics said that actually this change was hardly convincing), he supplies us with the fullness of genuine transformation of spirit, of heart in WE LIVE AGAIN. Here, he is not convinced by his beloved Christian girl that it is good to be a martyr but by the inner experience and a touching prayer. He is not afraid to become a mocked scapegoat in a decadent society, he does not hesitate to lose his wealth. All he wants is to stand in truth, atone for evil deeds and start a new life. Dmitri, as if, rises again from the miserable death in selfishness to the glorious life in love. The way March crafts this aspect is a must-see!
His co-star, Ana Sten as Katusha is, certainly, not the proportion of stardom that was the privilege for Garbo, Shearer or Dietrich at that time. Yet, I don't quite think that a very famous actress would have done well in role of a poor village girl whose only 'sin was poverty.' The role of Katusha must highlight social injustice, bitter tears and certain degree of genuine innocence in the 'lost paradise' of youthful enthusiasm. Those are the key aspects of Tolstoy. He shows the fact that innocence and good heart suffers in the decadent world of low-spirited materialism. And Ms Sten is very good for this role. Consider her moments of the trial and the bitterness she wants to convey in the talks with Dmitri. There are feelings of anger and helplessness, of hope being lost...fortunately the hope that may still experience the miracle of resurrection. In the final moment, she beautifully escapes the tendency of a clichéd face so notably encountered in the genre and evokes something powerful yet usually ignored on screen.
A special mention must also be made of the supporting cast, in particular C Aubrey Smith in the memorable role of Prince Kortchagin. and Jessie Ralph as Matrona Pavlovna. Although Ms Ralph is perhaps best remembered thanks to her significant role in CAMILLE, C Aubrey Smith was a mainstay of silver screen Hollywood production, including films by greatest directors like Mamoulian, Griffith, DeMille, Von Sternberg and LeRoy.
WE LIVE AGAIN by Rouben Mamoulian is a fabulous film, another classic that has so many things to offer. Its thought provoking content based on the great writer's own thoughts and its genuine artistry make it worth seeing in the 21st century so that it can live again in our minds after all these years.
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