Dir: Marcel L'Herbier

France, 100m



An ethereal creature from a dream like only L'Herbier knew how to make at the time, painted with light and shadow. Elegant with motions, like a calligrapher’s hand drawing from the beauty of enlightened heart. The man was one of the first visual masters of the medium.

Yet a visual prowess, and this is what’s so important for me, that understands the double perspective that gives shape and size to life around us, with the ability to restore it back in its proper dimensions. There, from outside the cabaret stage, the woman performing on stage for an indifferent world of organized cruelties, itself operating from behind the norm of social appearances. Here behind the stage, more pertinently for us, closer, the distraught mother tending to her sick child. Seeking absolutions, prostrating herself.

From our end we get to reconcile both, how the woman funnels profound sadness into public performance.

There is a painter involved, looking to capture evanescent beauty. At first it flees from him in the maze of Islamic architecture, but soon he finds it. As it turns out, love dawns on him from painting.

Eventually she has to let go a part of her heart to be mended again, and return to the mixed blessing of that stage where suffering can be sublimated into dance.

It is a small film but precious. It’s recommended you seek it out.


Watch on leimafia.tumblr.com

L'Herbier French Silent Film L'Argent (1928)


Ivan Mosjoukine stars as Mathias Pascal in THE LATE MATHIAS PASCAL (1926). Mathias, an eccentric dreamer, is trapped in the undertakings of daily life as he suffers his days in a loveless marriage, a dead end job and tyrannized by his ungrateful mother-in-law. Grief-stricken by the death of his mother and infant daughter, Mathias flees to Monte Carlo, where a run of luck at roulette wins him a fortune. After his death is falsely reported, Mathias leaps at the chance of a second and adventurous life in Rome. Both tragedy and comedy, The Late Mathias Pascal explores the struggles and possibilities of a man in search of happiness in Marcel L’Herbier’s most celebrated film.

Check out the deluxe Blu-ray edition of The Late Mathias Pascal here.

When filming L'INHUMAINE (1924), director Marcel L’Herbier endeavored to assemble an artistic team of visual and plastic vanguards. Who better then to provide sculptures for this cutting-edge production than avant-garde artist and pioneer of modern sculpture, Joseph Csaky. Born in Hungary in the late 1800s, Csaky became a naturalized French citizen in 1922. He is best known for being one of the first sculptors in Paris to apply the principles of pictorial Cubism to his art.

Csaky’s sculptures, so sought over by Marcel L’Herbier in 1924, continue to be in high demand nearly 100 years later. At a recent Sotheby’s auction, Csaky’s ‘Femme Accroupie,’ sold for $469,139, well over the pre-auction estimate of $69,502 – 83,402.

See pictures of Joseph Csaky’s sculpture on the L'INHUMAINE set on Flicker Alley’s blog, THE ARCHIVES.

French filmmaker Marcel L’Herbier’s groundbreaking contributions to cinema helped to define the country’s “first” avant-garde or “Impressionist” movement, which began to take shape in 1917. While his futuristic fairy tale L'INHUMAINE (1924) is lauded as an Impressionist masterpiece, in a way the film’s production also laid the groundwork for the end of the very Impressionist movement it represents. For L'INHUMAINE‘s production, L’Herbier recruited a team of artists from all mediums to represent the cutting-edge trends in every artistic domain. One of these artists was painter Fernand Léger. Léger contributed to L’Inhumaine‘s the set design and conceived and animated the opening credits. Léger’s participation in L'INHUMAINE, which forced him to adapt forms, colors, and sizes to the eye of the camera, sharpened his thinking about cinema, which had captivated him for a long time. This led in 1924 to the shooting of his famous BALLET MECHANIQUE, an experimental short film co-authored with Dudley Murphy. In his essay, “French Avant-garde Film in the Twenties: from ‘Specificity’ to Surrealism’,” Ian Christie describes the pivotal role Ballet Mechanique played in marking “the (delayed) encounter between modernism and the cinema.”

“Léger gained direct experience of the avant-garde cinema when he was invited by L’Herbier to design the laboratory sets for L’Inhumaine, a futuristic melodrama which also involved architectural designs by Robert Mallet-Stevens. Léger designed the laboratory and a poster in his ‘machine’ style; and later Ballet Mechanique was shown with L’Inhumaine in New York. Ballet Mechanique, however, made in collaboration with the cameraman Dudley Murphy, marked the decisive instance of modernism in the cinema. In the first place, it abandoned narrative and analogical structure in favor of analytic form: the episodes and their juxtaposition were determined by the kinds of filmic material involved. Secondly, the film took as its problematic the cinema as a means of reproduction and representation, thus re-inscribing the terms of its own production. Within this overall modernist shift, Ballet Mechanique also managed to re-locate the central themes of the Impressionist avant-garde and develop them coherently. Thus Léger’s close-ups of domestic items demonstrate the effect of photogenie with familiar objects, while the use of prisms, mirrors and other optical transformations provides an inventory of modes and abstraction within the filmic image – but one belonging to the twentieth century and not to be nineteenth century pictoral tradition that is evident in so many of the Impressionist films. Likewise, Ballet Mechanique invigorated the idea of cinematic rhythm and created an intricate series of oppositions between internal and external rhythms.

… As the spread of its reputation and the response of artists and film-makers attested, Ballet Mechanique was seen as a breakthrough – an avant-garde film certainly, but one which could break out of the enclave and establish its own terms of recognition.”

Can you see Léger’s nascent modernist point of view in his set designs for L'INHUMAINE? See for yourself in the image gallery on Flicker Alley’s blog, THE ARCHIVES.