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Her Sister's Rival (1916)

Zhizn za zhizn (original title)
Wealthy Mrs. Khromova has a natural daughter, Musya, and an adopted daughter, Nata. The merchant Zhurov is in love with Nata, and hopes to marry her, but she is non-committal. When Zhurov ... See full summary »

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Olga Rakhmanova ...
Lidiya Koreneva ...
Vera Kholodnaya ...
Vitold Polonsky ...
Ivane Perestiani ...
Zhurov, the merchant
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Wealthy Mrs. Khromova has a natural daughter, Musya, and an adopted daughter, Nata. The merchant Zhurov is in love with Nata, and hopes to marry her, but she is non-committal. When Zhurov introduces his friend Prince Bartinsky to the family, both young women soon fall in love with the dashing but irresponsible prince. The prince is in love with Nata, but because of his enormous debts, he decides to marry Musya to get her dowry, and he allows Nata to marry Zhurov. All the while, Mrs. Khromova remains very uneasy, fearing that marriage is unlikely to cause the self-indulgent prince to change his ways. Written by Snow Leopard

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9 December 1917 (USA)  »

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Her Sister's Rival  »

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User Reviews

 
Supported Mise-en-Scène
21 June 2005 | by See all my reviews

Yevgeni Bauer's "Silent Witnesses" (or "Mute Witnesses") (1914) had at the center of its story a love circle, as does this film, "A Life for a Life". The two films also share the same aesthetic, as is visible in much of Bauer's work: that is, the art of mise-en-scène. Supposedly, Bauer was attempting here to make a film that would compete with foreign spectacles. Perhaps, that is why the sets and production values of this film are especially lavish. A fantasy scene resembles an Italian epic, such as "Quo Vadis?" or "Cabiria", and columns are visible throughout the mansion. The melodrama is sensational, and the suspense is befitting of D.W. Griffith. Nonetheless, the picture still mostly resembles Bauer's own oeuvre.

The story will do. The acting isn't that remarkable, although Vera Kholodnaya, apparently a star in her day, is lovely and has a fairly expressive face. Her major gift, however, is the white of her eyes, which the camera can record from quite a distance. The sets are more interesting, their design and the way they are filled to create depth and space. In one scene, a curtain is used to unveil the truth. Bauer used curtains in other films for various reasons, including to reference theatre. Lighting effects also add to the mise-en-scène.

The mise-en-scène is probably better than that in most of Bauer's other works, at least in the lushness of set design, but what makes the most difference as to whether the film works on a whole is what supports the mise-en-scène. And, this is where Bauer has failed before. I don't care much for filmed plays and that's what one could call "Silent Witnesses". By that, I mean a traditional story and plot filmed by a stationary camera from long shots in long takes. In "A Life for a Life", there is some camera movement (slow inward and outward dolly shots, such as in the double wedding scene), and Bauer's usual cinematographer, Boris Savelyev, deserves credit, but it's mostly through editing that Bauer keeps the film moving.

Some of it is simple (but very important), such as cuts from establishing shots to medium shots and closer looks. There's some mild crosscutting between the five characters. But, Bauer also displays an expert knowledge of continuity editing; for example, when Nata stands up, angry with the prince, the film cuts from the closer look to a long shot. This is common practice nowadays, but not always in 1916, such as in those Italian spectacles, or Pathé film d'art photoplays. Some of the cuts might be too quick, but that's a minor error.

Bauer's most impressive editing in his films is the flow of shots that he sometimes attains. There is a hint of it here, such as in the passionate meeting between Nata and the Prince when her husband catches them. The editing--the way the shots flow into the next--creates the mood. "A Life for a Life" isn't the best film by Bauer that I've seen (see "After Death" (1915) and "The Dying Swan" (1917)), but it's how a film should be at the most basic level, and from there, Bauer fills it with, among other things, interesting mise-en-scène.


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