10 December 2005 | dbdumonteil
Back to history
...and to "Napoleon" whose life Gance transferred to the screen in the silent era.Sandwiched between two very underrated Gance works ("la Tour de Nesles" and "Cyrano et D'Artagnan" )it is a return to "real " "true" history.I will go as far as to write that Gance impressed me much more when his movies dealt with fictionalized history (the two mentioned movies,but "j'accuse" too)."Austerlitz has something academic ,conventional.It has nothing of Gance's madness.The first part is a stream of stars from Martine Carol to Claudia Cardinale ,from Jean Marais to Orson Welles (in a part which reminds us how Gance was interested in the development of science through the centuries ,à la Jules Verne,we find this interest in "Cyrano" and "J'accuse" too).THe lead is a good actor but he might be ,on an international level, the least known of them all:Pierre Mondy's name is buried in the cast and credits and although he is on the screen from the beginning to the end,his name is not bigger than that of Welles who appears barely five minutes.Ah fame! The first part has only one sequence where we find back the inventive Gance:we do not attend the coronation in Notre Dame ;the marechal de Ségur (Jean-Louis Trintignant) tells the whole story with the model in front of a strange audience:servants ;then the "mamma " ("pourvu que ça dure!=lets hope it lasts!") ,Napoleon's mother (Elvire Popesco) enters and her tears begin to flow .Although David put her in his famous painting she did not attend the ceremony.
The second part is more historically interesting ,but if you are not fond of military strategy ,you may stop yourself yawning.Fortunately a soldier of the old guard of Napoléon (un "grognard" )played by Michel Simon brings a bit of life among these troop movements.
Last but not least:I have always asked myself why a convinced pacifist such as Gance (his two versions of "j'accuse" may be the strongest anti-war films ever)could be so fascinated by a warrior such as Napoleon.