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Le Monde de Djayesse

Le Monde de Djayesse

Un peu de tout : du cinéma (beaucoup), de l'actu (un peu) et toute cette sorte de choses [A bit of everythying: cinema (a lot), news (a little) and all this kind of things]

Publié le par Djayesse
Publié dans : #Cinéma, #Muet, #English, #Abel Gance
Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1927)

Tremendous. Amazing. Prodigious.


After Griffith (Orphans of the Storm, 1921) and Ingram (Scaramouche, 1923), it was time the French cinematographers told their own version of the French Revolution.

And, speaking as a Frenchman, I can tell you I am not disappointed. Even if Robespierre is still considered as a villain. And this time, the main characters look more alike their historical models. We also can enjoy a great movie sequence : La Marseillaise (read below).

But this is the story of Napoleon. In the film, it begins in 1783 and ends in 1796, before Napoleon becomes the emperor - and dictator - we all know.

The film starts in Brienne, when young Napoleon (Vladimir Roudenko) was a pupil in this military school. He is 14 and plays with the other boys. They have a snowball fight, where he (already) acts like a strategist. And it ends before entering in Italy, beginning a series of conquests which will lead him to the throne of France.

Between these two events, Abel Gance shows us what one could find in History books in those days. Nothing misses: the foul snowball; Napoleon crossing the Mediterranean Sea with a flag for a sail; the fight for the Redoute of Toulon; and of course, his love affair with Josephine de Beauharnais (Gina Manès).

But even if this is a biopic, this film is far more than that. This is what we call CINEMA!

It was released the same year as Sunrise (F. W. Murnau) And here too, we can see all the film technologies which were known at that time: push-in, pull-back, pan, subjective camera, flashback... And the very end of the film is made with three sets stuck together (27 years before the first CINEMASCOPE film!) which give us a grand feeling of Napoleon and his destiny (One year later, Claude Autant-Lara released Construire un Feu which used the Hypergonar, former name of the Cinemascope).

This is a feast of images. With Abel Gance, two other illustrious filmmakers helped in making this film a masterpiece: Viktor Tourjanski and Alexandre Volkoff.

The camera is (nearly) always on the move. The rhythm is always changing: slow and fast sequences - and especially fast ones - give us a breathtaking effect.

This frenzy of images reach a few climaxes : the snowball fight, La Marseillaise, August the 10th 1792... This is incredible! We are flooded by images: five images are overlaid on another, creating a climax.

As this is a film made by Abel Gance, you can be sure to find a sort of orgiastic sequence: the Victim Ball. In this scene, we can see people having a big feast with gallons of wine and half-naked young women, dancing like in a bacchanal: this was Abel Gance!

But Napoleon is overall its actor: Albert Dieudonné. He does not act like Napoleon. He IS Napoleon. He looks like him, he walks like him, he sees like him. He is the future Emperor. His exaltation gives his soldiers - the future "Grande Armée" - the epic spirit they lacked to go to war. His eyes have all the eloquence we cannot hear in a silent film. This is why the silent films will always be superior to talking pictures.

There is also a more intimate Napoleon : he does not know what to say to Josephine; he accepts to play blind man's buff with her children... He is as clumsy as he is a good strategist. These moments show us a human person. He can be approached. But these moments do not last. Even with his family in Corsica, there is a gap of superiority between him and the other members that they accept. He is even above his mother: he is not a normal son. There is a  natural grandeur inside him that they recognize and respect.

But Napoleon is above all a series of extraordinary sequences, iconic shall we say.

- The snowball fight: it is part of the golden legend of Napoleon. But Gance shoots it as a founding scene. This moment announces what and who he will be. The camera is very near the action. We can almost live it. Sometimes the camera is subjective, sometimes, it is steady, but most of the time, we are inside the fight, very near the action. In this sequence, a recurring character is introduced: Tristan Fleury (Nicolas Koline) who will witness all the steps of Napoleon's rise, form Brienne Military School to the Gates of Italy.

La Marseillaise: three great films have a pertinent use of this anthem. La grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937), Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1943) and Napoleon. This is when this song becomes a national anthem. And here again, Gance and the film editor (Marguerite Beaugé) make it a magical moment. The screen is divided in three and even nine parts where we can see (and almost hear) people sing (thanks to the music by Carl Davis), leading to a peak with Damia impersonating this song. She is the Marseillaise, struggling for her freedom.

The night of August the 10th, 1792: on this night, Gance shows us two important events. The end of Royalty and Napoleon's crossing of the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of a storm. But there is also a storm in the National Assembly where the other scene takes place. This is why Gance uses a parallel montage where the camera moves like a tidal wave (a pendulum movement), ready to drown the people, in Paris or in the sea. As I said before, there is also five sequences overlaid one on another, le last (and not least!) being the blade of the guillotine falling down!

- The Gates of Italy: for this final sequence, Gance uses another image format. Instead of the 35mm which has been used all through the film, he uses three times this format by sticking them together, trying to give as much continuity between them. Some people come from the left side, walk in the centre and end in the right side with as much continuity as possible. This will enable a very large panoramic view, but also three location for the upcoming war.

And this is where Napoleon-Dieudonné is the greatest: he WILL be an emperor!



Three hundred and thirty-two minutes of pure cinema: a great pleasure and much emotion!

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