15 November 2010 | rsoonsa
An Émigré Film That Bids Fair For Inclusion Within The Upper Bracket Of Russian Produced Cinema.
Perhaps the first purely émigré film, L'ANGOISSANTE AVENTURE was completed during a period from winter into summer of 1920, its settings including Constantinople, Marseille and, finally, Paris, while its famed director Yakov Protazanov, cast, and crew were fleeing from Yalta following the Communist seizure of the Russian government. As should be expected from a film made almost solely by émigrés, it is a heterogeneous affair, including elements of broad comedy, romance, and pathos, plaited with something to spare into a highly satisfactory picture containing many pleasant touches. The IMDb listing shows the film's lead, Ivan Mozzhukhin, in the role of Octave de Granier, but he actually is performing as Henri, eldest son of Octave, with the latter played by French actor Alexandre Colas. When Henri's younger Charles (Dimitri Buchowetski) vanishes shortly after the date for his wedding is announced, his perplexed fiancée, Lucie de Moranges (Valentine Dark) appeals to Henri for assistance. He locates Charles, who has fallen beneath the spell of an entrancing stage and cinema actress, Yvonne Lelys (Nathalie Lesienko). Henri literally drags the newest prey of Yvonne, Charles, to safety, removing him back to the de Granier estate, where it is hoped that forced estrangement from his illicit romance will be a determining factor toward leading him securely to the altar. Yvonne, however, seeks revenge, and entices him, in time-honored fashion, toward a similar pitfall as had beguiled his brother, as an appropriate intertitle reads: "Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense". Yvonne's primary weapon for romantic diversion is the use of tears, visually coupled within the narrative to one of the many splendid fountains that grace Marseille. A love-struck Henri and his tarnished darling sail to Paris, where they wed and produce a daughter; however, there he learns that theirs is a not well-matched marriage. Yvonne enjoys close associations with her film studio colleagues, and before long Henri has witnessed all that he needs to as an outsider relative to his wife's vocation, and he, as a result, decides to become a film actor; whereupon, he achieves great popularity. This causes Yvonne to become a good deal more jealous than supportive, specially as they are no longer in differing worlds. Their existence together is quite contrary to Henri's former condition as a nobleman, and while his new situation as a commoner is less than appealing to his wealthy father, he does manage to find means of providing for his family, until a series of misfortunes occurs, as the melodrama advances rapidly to what will prove to be, for many viewers, a surprise ending. The cast is for the most part composed of Russian fled actors, along with some highly capable French players, for this peripatetic production that, after many months of shooting, was eventually completed at the Montreuil Studio in Paris. It was the second feature film made by the Ermolieff Company, and the first comprised of a principally Russian émigré cast, led by Mozzhukhin, who became a popular film star in France. Protazanov's affinity with his players is well established, and is in evidence here through his handling of Mozzhukhin and of the actor's future wife, the high-strung Lesienko. Although the work is unmistakably marked by carelessness in its construction, one cannot rationally expect much better if bearing in mind the lengthy (in both time and distance) production procedure. Cinematic Slavic intensity has long been prized in France, and such is the case with this film that is fundamentally merely a watchable but minor romantic melodrama. For all that, its imagery is cleverly accomplished, intertitles are frequently witty, class distinctions are insightfully presented within a Gallic environment, and 1920 views of Marseille are not only scenic, but useful, as well. The film is not readily acquired (this viewer's copy was located in Costa Rica). If one must decide upon a preferred translation, an English language intertitling rendition is a good choice, with transliterations for both the titles and intra-narrative being quite accurate. Colas earns the acting laurels for his effective turn as a proud French nobleman; however, all contributions by cast and crew are above standard.