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Edmond Van Daële,
I am trying to make my ongoing Luis Bunuel retrospective as comprehensive as possible so that, apart from the films he personally directed, I am including many of those he was involved with in some other capacity as well as some (by fellow film-makers) that inspired him or which he would single out as favorites.
The film under review is actually the very first job he landed in the industry, as an assistant director (reportedly, he also essayed multiple roles among the extras, albeit unrecognizably), one he would eventually reprise on the same director's more famous THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1928), a revisit of which will follow this viewing. MAUPRAT is a lavish costume drama set in pre-Revolutionary France, adapted from a novel by George Sand (actually a lady and perhaps best-known for her liaison with composer Frederic Chopin); the atmosphere it evokes is not unlike that of the classic THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928), with its backdrop of criminals, aristocracy, kidnapping, misguided reformation and turbulent romance.
The latter is, typically, at the center of the narrative: the protagonists are actually cousins (which the film seems to make nothing of) more confusing is the heroine's ambiguousness in the matter, where she alternately despises, ignores and cares for the male lead (could it be that Bunuel would remember this fact all those years later, thus going full circle, at the time of his last film i.e. THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE ?). Again, though he would only breach this environment (the period piece) in THE MILKY WAY (1969) and THE MONK (1972; which he only co-scripted), the Spanish Surrealist master may well have been influenced for the notoriously blasphemous conclusion of L'AGE D'OR (1930) by the very opening scene of this one where a band of sleazy renegade aristocrats attempt to gang-rape the virginal heroine in their mountain-side castle retreat! Besides, he must have been pleased by the ruse of making one of the villains hide under the guise of a mysterious but pious monk during the film's second half (as the last shot of his own EL  can testify).
That said, Bunuel was known for not being at ease during his tenure as Epstein's assistant, given the latter's predilection for experimentation (indeed, this era in cinema was particularly rife with technical innovation); in fact, he went so far as to claim that he learned absolutely nothing from the avant-garde film-maker! Still, even if the plot itself is compelling enough, it is these stylistics along with the impressive look which really make the film (so that it does not feel that much dated when viewed today!). Most interesting is the way the passage of time is economically depicted by superimposing successive images on top of one another: for instance, showing the leading lady at various stages during her stroll in the country, or the hero's dream played out over an image of him sleeping. The latter's own initial liberating break with the shackles imposed on him by society starts off with a low-angle shot of the boy jumping straight into the camera, as it were, followed by a tracking shot with the actor literally mounted on the dolly in which he appears to be gliding! The finale of MAUPRAT, though, is somewhat baffling as the chief villain chased along the rocks towards the sea simply vanishes into thin air, leaving his pursuer dumb-founded (were we meant to take it that he had jumped in and drowned?).
While I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, I must point out that I did not really watch it in the most congenial of circumstances: not only did the viewing occur late in the day but I had to watch the rather verbose Silent in French only, because the English subtitles which were supposed to accompany it proved to be either slightly out-of-synch (though switching them on again just now, they seem to be working fine duh!) or overlying the original intertitles! I had intended checking out the various other unwatched Epstein films in my collection as well, but I am not sure whether I will be able to fit them into my current schedule
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