Thursday, February 19, 2009

El Húsar de la Muerte (The Hussar of Death)

(1925, Chile, c.72m, b/w)
d Pedro Sienna p Alfredo Woinitsky sc Pedro Sienna, Hugo Silva ph Gustavo Bussenius cast Pedro Sienna, Clara Werther, Dolores Anziani, Hugo Silva, Guillermo Barrientos

Of around 78 silent films made in Chile only three survive; the fate of most was to be sold to comb factories for their celluloid content and El Húsar de la Muerte escaped only thanks to the diligence of restorer Sergio Bravo. Chilean cinema had been fired by the showing of the Lumières’ films in Santiago in 1896, and although never prolific or developing an industry infrastructure, native films began to appear in a steady trickle. El Húsar de la Muerte is a rough and ready account of the life of Manuel Rodriguez, legendarily instrumental in the country’s liberation in the early 1800s; his life had inspired the very first Chilean feature, and Sienna had already taken the lead for Arturo Marion in the second version of 1920. His return to the story was hugely popular and immediately hailed as the greatest of all Chilean films. It may lack in sophistication, but the tale is told with some pace and wit; now declared a National Historic Monument, it enjoyed popular revivals in the 1960s and 1970s, when the time for a revolutionary hero had returned. A rare and valuable survivor both for cinema history and for the history of its people.

© Time Out Film Guide

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