Wednesday, February 18, 2009

La Roue

(1923, France, 12 reels [c.273m], b/w)
d Abel Gance p Abel Gance, Charles Pathé sc Abel Gance ph Gaston Brun ed Marguerite Beaugé, Abel Gance ad Robert Boudrioz m Arthur Honegger cast Séverin-Mars, Ivy Close, Gabriel de Gravone, Pierre Magnier, Max Maxudian, Georges Térof

Cocteau: “There is cinema before and after La Roue, just as there is painting before and after Picasso”. The story is straightforward melodrama – father and son in love with the same woman, all three bound to the inexorable wheel of fate – but Gance’s magic camera spins poetry and metaphor out of the stockyard setting, with the thundering locomotives representing both the unstoppable power of human emotion, and man’s headlong rush towards industrial modernity. The fantastic prologue sets the tone, layers of superimposition simultaneously exposing the disorientated mind of modern man and comprising a hymn to the wheels and pistons of the machine age. If the dense allusiveness of Gance’s sooty modernism is regretted in the last third, with father and son exiled to the funiculaire, the severe alpine snowfields only serve to throw the fruitless human scurryings into greater relief as the characters spin closer to their ends. Gance is in total command of the medium, with razor-sharp editing and a camera that reaches far beyond realism to conjure sublime flights of psychological fantasy. Inspired by the poésie des machines, this is cinema as pure poetry.

© Time Out Film Guide


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