Umirayushchii lebed (1917) Poster

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Well-Crafted & Memorable Psychological Melodrama
Snow Leopard28 June 2005
Yevgeni Bauer's "The Dying Swan" is a finely-crafted melodrama that involves all of your emotions, making the viewer not just a witness to, but a part of the psychological struggles of its characters. The story idea is an interesting one, and the script very nicely adapts the idea to the silent screen.

There are essentially only five characters in the story, yet they present a finely-tuned balance between the three ordinary, predictable characters and the two creative geniuses who live for their art. The ballerina Gizella and the artist Glinskiy are both very interesting, and with Bauer's expert guidance the actors (Vera Karalli, who contributes an enchanting ballet sequence, and Andrei Gromov) bring them to life effectively. The artist character is especially nicely drawn, highly eccentric and obsessive, yet with enough balance to make sure that he does not become a stereotype. The other three characters are used effectively as a balance, both in the story developments and in establishing the personalities of the two leads.

Bauer's technique, as always, shows a sure hand, using special techniques at the right places. The dream sequence is particularly affecting, with an atmosphere carefully established, the camera slowly drawing away from Gizella's bed, and then the dream itself using some creative visuals.

The story of love and obsession draws you in almost effortlessly, and it's not possible to pull back, even when the sense of foreboding becomes almost unbearable. As a whole, it's a tightly constructed movie that makes a memorable impression.
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10/10
Keralli enchants, a dappled, subtle film
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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8/10
BAUER'S GRISLY IRONIC ROMANCE EXCELLENT
Auburn66823 February 2004
Sadly, Yevgeni Bauer would die soon after this, a morbid reminder in and of itself that life sometimes reflects art first. And in viewing "Umirayushchii Lebed" it is nearly impossible to not think that Bauer was not influenced by the literary works of Edgar Allan Poe. There are too many parallels there. Particularly the influence of women on the lives of the two men.

While Bauer's earlier marks in film were more technical, it is the acting and Zoya Barantsevich's story that shines this time around. The cast is similar to his earlier "Posle Smerti" and again employs Vera Karalli as its star. Karalli plays a beautiful dancer (the dying swan) who tragically is also a mute. When the first suitor of her life breaks her heart a lonely artist becomes totally enthralled by her beauty as well...but in a completely different way.

Andrej Gromov plays this second of the two men in her life and does a masterful job of showing us an unhappy, dark, mysterious man-on-a-mission...for lack of a better term. The outdoor locations at the beginning of the film portray a happy world where the lovely Karalli lives with her loving father before her fateful meeting with Gromov. And once again Bauer shows us his fascination with dreams and their meaning, particularly as they coincide with the films ironic conclusion. And the film again features a nice score; this time by Joby Talbot and his violin-cello-piano trio.

The nutshell: not technically groundbreaking such as Bauer's "Posle Smerti" was but still comes across as more enjoyable because of its acting, storyline, and emotional response from the viewer. Again, not a feature length film but worth checking out...8/10.
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9/10
The ghost of pre-revolution films
Yaav-ann29 January 2009
I am afraid Vera Karalli. After watching the second film with her participation, I was convinced of this. I did not see so sad a face from anyone of actress. And it is exactly not plaintive, like "uncle, give me kopeck" (It is Russian idiom), namely sad, mystical sad. As for me it is a clear why she was taken to the role of Gizella and even, based on film plot, clear why she with her "The Dying Swan" was image of death. In combination with face of Karalli, appropriate music and Black and White and Blue colors the episode of the prophetic sleep of Gizella was shown to me more terrible than any there "Jawes" and "Pets cemeteries". By the way, they selected actor to the role of maniac- artist ideally. Perhaps, unique persons, who pleasant to me in this history, are, certainly, Vitold Polonsky, who as always is charming and lovely, Ivan Perestiani and Alexander Kheruvimov. And nevertheless I do not like films with the ending-death (I did not see anything pre-revolutionary film where in the end nobody would die). As for me the Soviet silent movies and early sound Soviet films are somehow closer. Let it is a socialist realism, let in the ending enamored heroes march on the Red Square and sing songs about Motherland, but all it looks though and is utopia, but whether more humanly that.
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9/10
Art and Death
Cineanalyst16 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Gizilla (Gisella) is as mute as the film. Yevgeni Bauer doesn't overuse intertitles. He's a visual director, which is especially important in silent films, but I consider cinema generally a visual art form. The protagonist being mute is one of the more obvious self-referential elements of "The Dying Swan". There's also the other artistic media, which in turn reflect the film itself: painting, dancing and the stage. There are dreams, which are associative to motion pictures. It seems that Bauer meant his films to be self-reflexive. You can see this in the rest of his oeuvre, as well. It helps ground the narrative; the art, this film, is so detailed it not only reflects death and what the filmmaker is telling, but reflects this back upon itself.

Bauer again features dreams. The dolly out and lightening effects introducing the premonition, in addition to the low-key lighting and tinting make for a very modernly stylization. This is just one example of the masterful lighting and camera-work of Bauer and longtime cinematographer Boris Savelyev. Many scenes are outdoors, so there isn't much room to control lighting, although Bauer finds plenty of ways to design the space, but even in the way they let the light through to create slight shadows shows intent and skill. As in "After Death" (1915), shots flow into the next, such as during the romance. It doesn't seem enough to say that it's just fine continuity. The film dances.

Speaking of the romance, it seems out of place in a tragedy. When Gizilla said "No... no... it is just a dream", it left me wondering. With such a director who obviously knew how to incorporate dreams into his narratives, it leaves the story rather open. Even the film's stunning end isn't entirely certain. Bauer created amazing compositions, not so much in a painterly manner, but, rather, in a way that made cinema an art.

(Note: The print contains some brief bleeding.)
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The dying image (of an era)
chaos-rampant13 September 2011
Only ten months after the January 1917 release of the film, the whole Russian worldview was going to be torn asunder. The Soviet cinema that emerged post- 1922 was going to commit itself in the pursuit of the mechanisms that drive forward the eye, a collective eye that did not contemplate any more but would set in motion by seeing.

So, this is a really precious film to have, I think; a snapshot of the world about to be swept aside, and the transfiguration of the core of that world in terms of cinema.

So, whereas with Eisenstein or Pudovkin, the heroic focus shifts on the disenchanted individual - the faces tired but resolute, the living hard but rigorously driven - who is transformed, subsumed into a mass of collective struggle redolent with immediate purpose, Bauer's films shows a life distraught with aimlessness, women as fragile, ethereal beings - a far cry from Pudovkin's Mother - and the members of a decadent aristocracy, the ruling class not quite able to even rule their own lives, as entombed in morbid fixations with images of the past. Faces are nervous, agitated, sunken from inner weights.

In Daydreams it was the image of a dead wife; here it is the image of a ballerina, the swan with broken wings, as evoking the essence of death. The young painter will eventually have to stage the picture of death he wants to immortalize.

On the whole, this one more gloomy than Bauer's rest, it evokes an atmosphere of Poe; a tragic, romantic exaltation of woe. It's potent as Gothic romance but - like Poe - rather comfortably nudged in its archaism. It's not something I will keep with me, unlike Daydreams and its Vertigo-esque dizziness.
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6/10
Disturbing beauty
timbeach-038897 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A strangely enchanting film. A heartbroken mute girl tours as a dancer, where she receives an invitation from a count to be painted. The count is a hopeless painter and a creepazoid obsessed with death, decorating his shadowy rooms with replica skeletons. A haunting dream sequence foreshadows the grim ending to come.

Set largely in the sunlit outdoors amongst ferns, greenery and opulent balconies, it carries an elegant grace. The film is well cast, and the dance sequence performed about mid way though is remarkable. I can't imagine standing on my tip toes for ten seconds, yet alone two minutes - not to mention the grace in which its accomplished! It is worth watching for that sequence alone.

I can't say I really understand what the point of the creepiness is, but I guess you could say it is simply a tale of sad misfortune.
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7/10
This film is about necrophilia--keep this in mind before you let the kids watch it!
MartinHafer30 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Wow--I never thought I'd use the word "necrophilia" in one of my reviews, but it is appropriate for this bizarre little film from Russian director Evgeni Bauer. It's a very strange film that I really can't compare to any other film I've seen--and I've seen a lot! There's a mute woman who dates a guy who seems pretty nice. However, she later catches him with another woman and so she decides to leave home and seek out a career as a dancer. Her dancing, by the way, is incredible--I don't know how the actress is able to dance on her toes like that and for so long--even if it is ballet. At the same time, we meet a very odd guy who is an artist obsessed with death (a frequent Bauer theme). He wants to capture the perfect image of death and when he sees the lady dance as a dying swan, he knows he MUST make a picture of her in the death scene. This guy is really creepy and loves death--in later years, this sick obsession no doubt would have been handled in a more explicit fashion. She does agree to pose and the guy is way too happy and excited to make me comfortable! Later, though, the jerk from earlier in the film reappears and apologizes. They patch up their relationship and she is finally happy. And that creates a problem for Mr. Necrophile, as she no longer looks like the embodiment of death--she's just too darn happy and can't make the same wonderful death pose. So, naturally, he comes up with a "solution" to this dilemma and the movie ends. Ewwwwww!!!!!!!! The film is highly creative but also highly creepy. I wasn't thrilled with the film because of its sick plot, but must admit that excellent camera-work and unusual writing make it worth a peek.
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