5 March 2007 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
I saw this fascinating drama in October 2006 at the Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy. 'Kameliadamen' translates as 'Camellia Lady': this is the same story which would later become Garbo's classic 'Camille', and which also became the opera 'La Traviata'.
'Kameliadamen' is quite faithful to its well-known source novel, so I see no need to synopsise it here. What intrigued me about this very early silent film is that it managed to compress the novel's entire plot into such a brief movie: we have here about ten minutes of actors' footage, plus two minutes of Danish intertitles, for a total running time of 12 minutes! I was further intrigued by this film's tableau structure. The action of the novel is here divided into five scenes, each of which is recorded in a single camera set-up as if it were a stage play. The only editing within any of these scenes is the insertion of intertitles. Unfortunately, due to the film's extreme brevity, rather a large amount of intertitling is necessary to explain what's going on: about 15% of this film's running time is devoted to intertitles. Since the original story is so well known, I regret that director Viggo Larsen and his uncredited scenarist (probably also Larsen) didn't trust us to follow the plot line with less titling.
By the way, I've seen several dramatisations of Dumas Jnr's novel, and ALL of them -- including 'Kameliadamen' -- leave out my single favourite detail from the original novel. They usually mention that the courtesan Marguerite Gauthier earned her nickname due to her fondness for wearing a camellia. What they don't mention is one especially intimate detail from Dumas Jnr's text: namely, that Marguerite always wears a white camellia, except for three consecutive days each month when she sports a red one! Aye, that means exactly what it suggests.
I'll rate 'Kameliadamen' 9 points out of 10. I'm deeply intrigued that, as early as 1907, director Viggo Larsen and his creative team had such a firm hand over the narrative techniques of cinema.