French Masterworks: Russian Émigrés in Paris 1923-1929 (DVD)

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A collection of Russian filmmakers who made up the core of what came to be known as Films Albatros arrived from Moscow after the October 1917 revolution by way of Yalta, Constantinople and Marseilles, establishing their base of operations in an old Pathé greenhouse-style studio in the Paris suburb of Montreuil. From it flowed some of the finest French films of the 1920s – variously experimental, spectacular, charming, witty; and always beautifully executed. The five exciting features in this collection, each restored to excellent condition by La Cinematheque francaise, are all U.S. house video premires, accompanied by outstanding new music by Timothy Brock, Robert Isreal, Neil Brand, Antonio Coppola and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Three of the films showcase the multifaceted talents of Ivan Mosjoukine, who left a starring career in Russia for even greater glory in France. He wrote and directed The Burning Crucible (Le Brasier ardent, 1923) in which he also plays eleven parts. Of this film Jean Renoir said “I was ecstatic… I decided to abandon my trade, ceramics, to try to make films.” Mosjoukine also collaborated on the script and plays the title role in Alexandre Volkoff’s lavish Kean (1924), dramatizing the later life of Edmund Kean, the greatest Shakespearian of the early 19th century. In The Late Mathius Pascal (Feu Mathius Pascal, 1926) – a nearly three-hour super super-production based upon a Pirandello Novel and brilliantly directed by Marcel L’Herbier – Mosjoukine inhabits the dual lives of the eponymous main character.

Alexander Kamenka, the head of Albatros, thought Jacques Feyder the greatest French filmmaker, and secured his talent for the dazzling comedy-dramas Gribiche (1925) and The New Gentlemen (Les Nouveaux messieur, 1928). Jean Forest (Faces of Children, Crainquebille) is Gribiche, a working-class youth who allows himself to be adopted in the hopes that his widowed mother can marry a man unwilling to take on a step-son. The New Gentlemen, one of the wittiest, most sophisticated comedies ever to come out of France, describes a tug-of-war over a pretty young actress between an aging aristocrat and a young left-wing union organizer.

Starring: Ivan Mosjoukine, Nathalie Lissenko, Nicolas Koline, Marcelle Pradot, Lois Moran, Marthe Bellot, Jean Forest, Francoise Rosay, Cecile Norman, Gaby Morlay, Albert Prejean, Henri Roussell

Directed By: Marcel L'Herbier, Ivan Mosjoukine, Alexandre Volkoff, Jacques Feyder

Written By: Marcel L'Herbier, Kenelm Foss, Ivan Mosjoukine, Alexandre Volkoff, Jacques Feyder

Score By: Timothy Brock, Robert Israel, Neil Brand, The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Antonio Coppola

Language: Silent with French intertitles

Video: 480i / 1:33:1 / Black and White / Tinted Color

Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo

Subtitles: English

Theatrical Release: 1923-1929

Runtime: 664 Minutes

Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Region Code: Region Free (0)

Special Features: In acknowledgment to on-going, serious archival restoration, a scene from Gribiche not in the set’s current restoration but only in the foreign negative, is presented as a bonus feature / A new essay on Films Albatros and notes on each film by historian Lenny Borger.

Genre: Foreign, Drama, Silent Cinema, Comedy