a model of how to construct a soundless third-person flashback narrative
This excellent film belongs cetainly to the genre of "diva" films in which Bertini excelled, but that should not prevent one from eing aware that it has other generic qualities that are equally if not more important. Its real interest lies not so much in its affinity with the "vamp" film (Theda Bara had acted in a now lost US version two years before) but in the highly effective narrative technique used. Third-person narrative was not so easy in soundless film as it would become in the talkies and a combination of devices wree necessary to make it work.
There was nothig particularly novel about a story told in flasback as, this film, following the 1866 Dumas novel on which it is based, is, but it is her combined with the technique of what I have elsewhere called the "epistolary" film that had been very largely pioneered by French direcotr Léonce Perret (in Roam d'un ousse or Le Mystères es rochers de Kador) where a continual and very deliberate use is made of on-screen letters and documents. Here that is combined with long extracs from the memoir that the scultpor hero (played by Gustave Serena) is shown writing at the beginning (in fact his "confession").
In general terms US and European films were from abut this poin of time traeling in diametrically opposite directions where the use of interitles wre concerned. In US films these were becoming denser and denser so that, in effect, by the twenties US films were already "talkies" without the sound, to such an extent that sound when it came would not only seem an obvious option but was actually almost a necessity; in European films on the other hand, the twenties privileged increasingly the visual aspects of the film (playing to the the great sterngth of the silent screen) and intertitles were kept to a minmum.
In seeming - but only in seemimg - the reverse is true in this film.but in practice the use of "intertitles" here (they are in fact as much "documentation" as they are intertitles) is a function of the narrative-from and not simply a telling of the story). It etsbalished, that is to say, how the story if told but is remarkably unimportant to its actual telling. Virtually all the "intertitles" from this poit of view could actually be dispensed with (one raraly has in fact any need to read the tex of them with any great attention) and the story is itself told almost entirely visually in the typical European fashion. The on-screen text is there for ambience and to create the illusion of a soundless third-person narrative and is very effective in doing so.It is, in this respect, one of the most technically skilful films of the late teens.
Incidentally one has the pleasure of seeing the film début f a fiteen-year-old Vittorio de Sica as the sculptor when a boy at the beginning of the film.
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