Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
A Russian who immigrated to Paris in the early 1920s, Dimitri Kirsanoff was above all an avant-gardist. However, he wasn’t above employing Griffith-style melodrama when it suited his purposes. In his “Menilmontant,” a brief, richly volatile work about a young mother trying to make her way in Paris, the director uses brisk, arrhythmic cutting, odd camera angles, and superimpositions to reflect the unbalanced mental state of his heroine. Though the story plays as though it’s been run through a Cuisinart, somehow it holds together emotionally. This is due in no small part to the exquisite acting of Kirsanoff’s wife, Nadia Sibirskaia. She turns in one of the great performances of the silent cinema — comparable in vividness to Falconetti’s Joan or the best work of Lillian Gish. This bench sequence, perhaps the most placid bit in the picture, is the moment everyone remembers. Charity, and the conflict of pride and capitulation that so often accompanies its receipt, has probably never been more lucidly presented on film. It’s like a Victorian vignette brought to life.
- Pauline Kael once cited “Menilmontant” as her favorite movie.
- Movie buffs have sometimes debated the development of rapid cutting. The history books credit it to the Soviets. But how to explain its presence in early films directed by Abel Gance and in the work of certain White Russian expats?
- You can watch the whole of “Menilmontant” on YouTube:
Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I saw this post in the hopper, so I watched the film a few nights ago. Enjoyed it, in particular the bench scene and when she’s walking along the river with her baby.
Two and half minutes of cutting back and forth between two people eating just seems dull to me. What’s the appeal? The only thought I had about it was to wonder why the light in old films is so flickery.
You realize that “cutting back and forth between two people” is a big chunk of what goes on in movies, right?
Yeah, it was the eating that got me, not the cutting. I gather there was an epiphany to be had here, but I didn’t get it.
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