L’argent (1928)

Not to be confused with the Bresson film of the same name, and not just because L’Herbier’s film comes from Zola and Bresson’s from Tolstoy; there’s a world of difference. Anyway, yes, this was a night of two very long films, but really, I could watch seven hours of silent cinema or seven hours of Australian federal election coverage. What would YOU have done? Exactly. So after four hours of Soviet pulp fun, here’s three hours of heavy-handed French rumination on money being the root of all evil. Not particularly fun, albeit quite amazing to look at… Zola’s novel is updated (controversially at the time) to the late 20s, and there are other changes, but otherwise it seems to preserve the broad outline of the book; Saccard is a financier who’s basically been bankrupted but manages to scam his way back to a fortune, capitalising on the popularity of a young aviator and using false reports of his death to boost shares in his own stock. And seduce the young man’s lovely wife along the way. In 1928 this would’ve been the height of cinematic modernism, costing five million francs and, to be honest, pretty much looking it, wherein alas a certain problem lay for me. The longer the film went on, the more I felt that L’Herbier’s heart lay with his sets and his camerawork and, frankly, the money spent on same; by the last hour the seemingly untiring mobile camera was frankly starting to wear me out, the ostentation of its movements and the showing off of the sheer decor and masses of people involved in the film squashing the minimal human interest of the actual characters. Saccard is an exceptionally bad man, yet somehow not terribly interesting; almost as if we’re meant to find him bad just because he is, after all, the head of a bank. Obviously the technical accomplishment of the film is not to be denied, reaching a probable peak in the intercutting of Jacques departing on his trans-Atlantic flight with the scenes at the stock exchange (apparently the original presentation of the film included sound effects played on discs for this scene), but on the whole I found myself admiring from a distance rather than enjoying up close. But I’d still rather three hours of this to three hours of talking head election commentary.


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