Le brasier ardent (1923)

Director: Ivan Mosjoukine

Next up: Flicker Alley’s collection of five films made in the 20s by Films Albatros (who also produced The Italian Straw Hat which I reviewed a few months back). Albatros were one of various filmmaking enterprises established in Paris by Russian emigres fleeing the new Communist regime—France being a logical place for them to end up, given the importance of French companies to Tsarist-era filmmaking—among them this film’s star and director, Ivan Mozzhukhin (as he used to be spelled before his Francification). Apparently this was his second directorial effort (though IMDB credits him only with this), and his last one as well, though he acted in many of the other Albatros films (and wrote some as well). Indeed, he apparently plays no fewer than eleven roles in Brasier, most of them evidently in the quite astounding nightmare sequence that kicks off proceedings. On which note… you know how I’ve talked in the past about some films being kind of variable in tone? Brasier‘s not so much variable as it is prone to whiplash after that opening reel, which gives absolutely no indication that the rest of the film after it will actually be a comedy. This is not Doug Fairbanks in When the Clouds Roll By. Story: basically, nice couple—older man, somewhat younger woman—love each other dearly, but he wants to leave Paris and head home for South America and she doesn’t. Disputes ensue and the husband hires master detective Z (Mosjoukine) to find madame’s “soul”. Madame is played by Nathalie Lissenko, Mrs Moz, which may indicate how all this turns out. But that opening reel casts a bizarre shadow over the rest of proceedings—not just because it keeps cropping up in the story proper—and suffuses the film with an air of overall strangeness that’s quite perplexing. Not just the actually strange business (like the husband’s visit to the detective agency, which is like Feuillade on… I don’t know what, but something bad) but even the straightforward comic stuff. The shift after the first reel is such a thrower that its original audiences apparently never forgave it, the film flopped and there ended Mosjoukine’s directorial career. Personally I’d hesitate to say I liked the film, though I might enjoy it better on a second viewing when I know what to expect; and one undeniably good thing did come from the film indirectly, in that a young ceramic artist called Jean Renoir was apparently so moved by it he decided to get into filmmaking himself…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s