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  • The White Russian exile Ivan Mosjoukine was arguably the greatest male star of the silent screen. Imagine an actor who combined the matinée idol looks of John Barrymore with the smoldering sexual magnetism of Valentino, the deft physical comedy of Chaplin with the dark Gothic creepiness of Lon Chaney. It sounds impossible, of course - unless you've seen Mosjoukine in action. One glance from those hypnotic, liquid eyes holds more power than all the others combined.

    Indeed, there's a strong case for Mosjoukine as the greatest actor in screen history. His stylised High Romantic playing has dated far less in 80 years than the Actor's Studio tricks of Brando and de Niro have dated in half that time. To see him in his great roles - and Matthias Pascal is one of those - is to feel time itself dissolve through the camera's lens. Mosjoukine, like Garbo, is one of a handful of screen stars whose work on celluloid has the immediacy of live performance.

    As a vehicle for Mosjoukine and his brilliance, The Late Matthias Pascal is one of the all-time greats. He starts off as an adolescent dreamer, last survivor of a ruined of a ruined aristocratic dynasty (much like Mosjoukine's own family in post-Revolutionary Russia). Blundering his way into marriage, he becomes a harassed and penniless family man, weighed down by wife, baby and the original Mother-In-Law From Hell. Only the awfulness of his home life allows him to tolerate his job - catching rats at the local library, whose mouldering piles of books resemble the last scene of Citizen Kane!

    Tragedy strikes, and Matthias runs away. Instantly, his luck changes. Winning a fortune at the Casino in Monte Carlo, he moves on to Rome - where he appears as a young gentleman of fashion. Soon enough, he falls in love with a young girl played by Lois Moran. An infatuation of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the model for Rosemanry in Tender Is the Night, Moran is similarly idealised in this film. Naturally, Matthias longs to do the decent thing and marry her. Yet he faces the same dilemma as most of Pirandello's heroes. If he isn't himself, who on Earth is he?

    As a work of cinema, The Late Matthias Pascal is not as spectacularly dotty as L'Herbier's 1924 masterpiece L'Inhumaine. It is also perhaps a shade too long. Yet its bravura sequences - the library, the casino, the dream sequences where Matthias is haunted by his 'dead' double - show L'Herbier as an unjustly neglected genius, worthy of a place next to Lang and von Stroheim in Film Studies 101. His spectacular use of real-life locations is unusual for the 20s. But Mosjoukine is the most spectacular sight of all!
  • Luigi Pirandello had long resisted a film adaptation of his popular 1904 novel "Il Fu Mattia Pascal" because he disliked the compromises that routinely cropped up when his properties moved to the big screen. He was justified; an American poverty-row studio would have taken this book and made it into a neat 70-minute drama and changed the hero from a philosopher/dreamer into someone who had a real job, like an architect. Marcel L'Herbiér's Albatros unit was finally chosen when Pirandello decided to relent, precisely due to L'Herbiér's refusal to compromise; although his films generated great controversy, some were commercial successes and all trod a thin line between art filmmaking and conventional story arcs. Ironically, judging from his earlier productions, "Feu Mathias Pascal" was an example of L'Herbiér playing it relatively safe; there are no wild outbursts of montage nor cameras on a swing, though at least three tiny vestiges of his more experimental approach crop up in this lengthy, three-hour film. However, the style of "Feu Mathias Pascal" is still advanced, and it remains very modern in feel, especially as shown with Timothy Brock's very fine score for the 2009 restoration.

    Ivan Mozzhukhin, a major star of the French silent cinema of the 1920s, plays the role of Mathias Pascal. A deep thinker and scion of an aristocratic family that is declining and on the ropes, Pascal loses his estate, yet remains idealistic, marries, and has a baby daughter. His mother and the child die on the same day, and after a period of mourning he flees to Monte Carlo, where he luckily restores much of his personal fortune. Learning that he is considered dead back in his home town, he goes onto forge a new life, but is pestered both by the stress of being in hiding and the ineffectual nature of his not being who he says he is. The story has numerous substrata, and L'Herbier includes them all, with Mozzhukhin's expressive countenance and comic physicality holding it together. Mozzhukin is wonderful in the role, and does a fine job throughout; other standout performances include Michel Simon, in his film debut, as Mozzhukhin's occasional buddy and Pierre Batcheff as a juvenile thief. L'Herbier has a problem turning the corner on plot points: the first sequence demonstrating the conflict between Pascal and his mother-in-law seems to go on for an eternity. Experienced eyes know that this cannot be a major aspect of the tale told, and it isn't, but L'Herbier treats it like it is. There are a lot of long takes on Mozzhukhin, just thinking; we know what he's thinking, but it doesn't build tension. Also, L'Herbier's cutters were kind of cavalier about matching action; one character is seen leaving the scene three times. Despite such shortcomings, "Feu Mathias Pascal" is major landmark in French cinema in several ways; it is a high-water mark in both Mozzhukhin's career and in Pirandello adaptations, and it was the most commercially successful of all L'Herbier's films, which must have pleased him because he clearly designed it as a solid, commercial feature. Alberto Calvacanti and Lazare Meerson designed the sets, and despite the radical difference in approach the two styles shake hands, not to mention the splendid location shooting in Monte Carlo, Rome and San Gimignano. Careful eyes will note what Luis Buñuel took away from "Feu Mathias Pascal," particularly in the Roman sequence, which coincidentally involves Pierre Batcheff's character.
  • Marcel Lherbier,like his colleague Abel Gance ,made his most celebrated and acclaimed films in the silent era.Among all his talkies,only " La Nuit Fantastique" can be really looked upon as a classic.

    "Feu Mathias Pascal " is a curious film ,depicting a character whose only wish in life is freedom.

    First part depicts his family life ,with his sweet mother,his wife whose love will not last long and his mother-in-law,a shrew.It contains great scenes such as the depiction of the old library where rats come to nibble at the books.Although it's a PIrandello-inspired story,the scene when Mathias puts his dead baby into her dead mom's hands is Dickensian:it recalls this end of chapter when David Copperfield says farewell to her mother Clara Murstone they lay in her grave with his half brother in her arms.

    The weak part of the story is the short transitions between the two parts which takes place in the casinos of Monte Carlo,a place best depicted in Erich Von Stroheim's "Foolish wives" (1921).

    The second part could be subtitled "the liberty years" :On his way home,Mathias reads the newspapers and discovers that"his dead body was found" .So he come back to Rome,where he has not got an identity anymore .This second segment often verges on fantasy and horror with a séance in the dark,and the "ghost" who scares the hero's in-law. The ending when the hero visits his grave is the definitive step to freedom.The last picture is Chaplinesque.

    Michel Simon makes two appearances as the hero's good friend who marries his wife when they all believe he is dead.
  • "The Living Dead Man" is an incredibly long movie--clocking in at almost three hours. Now I am not against long films--many of my favorite films are this long or longer. However, the story doesn't seem to justify the length and several times irrelevant subplots could have been eliminated in order to tighten the story. In addition, at some times the leading man (Ivan Mozzhukhin) was great but at other times he stared off into space as if to say 'I'm trying to be artsy, folks'! However, despite these problems, the film is worth seeing--particularly for silent film buffs.

    Mathias' life sucks. His family has lost their fortune, his mother-in-law who lives with him is Satan and his wife has slowly started to become just like her mother. To top it off, he ends up losing his mother and daughter on the same day!! Truly his life stinks. All this took an hour to tell--but could have been done so, easily, in half this time.

    On a lark, Mathias takes a trip to Monte Carlo. There, he's insanely lucky and wins a fortune. As he's returning home, he reads a newspaper--only to discover he's been declared dead! Some poor guy's body washed ashore and folks thought it was Mathias! Now, the idea of starting a new life without his nasty wife and mother-in-law dawns on him and he moves to Rome. So far, so good, but the film bogs down on a needless plot involving spiritualist thieves. Where all of it goes from here, you can see for yourself. But my advice is to perhaps hit the fast-forward button in places--it really needed it. But, despite this, the film still manages to get a recommendation from me. Good but it could have been a lot better.

    By the way, this film has an incredible multinational cast--with Russians, Americans, Frenchmen and a soon-to-be famous Swiss actor, Michel Simon. Such casts were not easy to create once talking pictures came into vogue.
  • Oof. At 3 hours, this film is far too long for its pace, which plods along slowly in the first half especially. There are entire scenes which are unnecessary, starting with the very first, which has Pascal's mother being taken advantage in selling her estate, which is a waste of about 15 minutes. Another example is a scene of mice and cats in the library, which is just silly. These things take away from and delay considerably the main story - Mathias Pascal's feeling of claustrophobia in his marriage leading him to 'run away from it all', helped along by the belief others have that he's died (hence 'The Late Mathias Pascal').

    The film occasionally feels like an experimental project, with attempts to dabble in humor, romance, and surrealism at various points, but missing holistic vision. There are certainly some nice moments. I loved seeing Pascal in Rome at various sites (the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Ponte Sant'Angelo among others), the gambling scenes in Monte Carlo, and some of the outdoor scenes, such as those along the train tracks. Director Marcel L'Herbier utilizes techniques such as overlays and slow motion which were 'state of the art' at the time. Unfortunately there as many bad examples of filmmaking. Far too often we see tight shots of Ivan Mozzhukhin's face, who is reasonably good in the role, but has limited range, so we see the same dramatic expression over and over. The editing was also poor, so that we see moments repeated slightly or not fit together seamlessly. Only for the hardcore (and very patient) silent film buff.
  • This was the 2nd Marcel L'Herbier movie that I watched. It has some strange and mystical quality that sometimes remind me of #PaulAuster's novels. Amazing adaptation, wonderful plot.