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The Dying Swan (1917)

Umirayushchii lebed (original title)

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A grief-stricken ballerina becomes the obsession of an increasingly unhinged artist.

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Cast

Cast overview:
Vera Karalli ...
Gizella - mute dancer
Aleksandr Kheruvimov ...
Gizella's Father
Vitold Polonsky ...
Viktor Krasovsky
Andrej Gromov ...
Valeriy Glinskiy - the artist
Ivane Perestiani ...
Glinskiy's friend
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Storyline

When Viktor meets Gizella one day beside the lake, he takes an interest in her and begins to call on her regularly. The one passion in the life of Gizella, who is unable to speak, is dancing. When Viktor deceives her and she finds him with another woman, she moves away and begins a career as a ballerina. Later, as she is on tour performing "The Dying Swan", the artist Glinskiy attends her performance. Glinskiy, whose own obsession is to depict death in his art, becomes fascinated by Gizella, and he is determined to use her as a model for a special project. Written by Snow Leopard

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17 January 1917 (Russia)  »

Also Known As:

Der sterbende Schwan  »

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User Reviews

 
Keralli enchants, a dappled, subtle film
31 May 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The Dying Swan is surpassingly beautiful, the kind of movie you can sink into. Bauer seemed to be someone who loved the medium of film, there's beautiful framing and deep focus photography from the very first scene where a father and daughter go fishing whilst in the deep background we see a horse lolling at the waterside. It's a film filled with sunlight (seems strange that the black and white medium could be used so effectively to portray natural light). You get the idea that filmmakers used to be more subtle, Bauer crafts beauty from the shadow of a palm frond on a sunny porch, and uses moving camera shots sparingly and for maximum effect.

The film also has elements of humour, Bauer clearly enjoying making a mockery out of a fatalistic death-obsessed Count who sees his own amateurish daubs as masterpieces. Russia was supposedly in the grip of morbidity in this period.

The story is about a young woman (Gizelle) who is mute and lives with her father. She falls in love with a young man, stintingly, and is upset when she discovers a dalliance of his. The great passion of her life is dancing so she resolves to leave home and become a ballerina. She is sad and dances a solo ballet piece which is meant to imitate the death of a swan, and is in fact, very beautiful. The actress Vera Karalli was actually a great ballet dancer and danced with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Often the dancing in old films is a bit less than spectacular (I'm thinking of Les Vampires, and Der Heilige Berg), that is not the case here.

I've mentioned the painter Alma Tadema in reviews before, and I think Bauer does some shots which are similar to his type of preoccupations, shots of architecture, generally balconies with glimpses of landscape or seascape in the distance. Bauer is not quite as exaggerated, which is good seeing as the story is of folks more introverted that the Romans. I think early filmmakers particularly Griffiths were highly influenced by Victorian painters, unfortunately film's love affair with painting and image seems to have wained since then.

What I like about Mr Bauer as well are his dream sequences, which seem to resonnate at a primordial level (one might even call them Lynchian - especially as the one in this film is premonitive). There is a terrific one in Bauer's After Death (1915). The dead Zoya Kadmina (Vera Karalli again) appears to the student Bagrov in a dream, a wonderful rolling landscape of wheat-sheaves rolling away into the distance, her face incandescent. In Dying Swan Gizelle dreams that the Count who is painting her has already killed a predecessor of his obsession, she warns Gizelle that this is what is waiting for her and takes her down to a dungeon where hands close in on her, grasping.

Recommended to all.


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