Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Love of Jeanne Ney

Before plunging headlong into the Freudian sexuality of Pandora's Box, German filmmaker G. W. Pabst offered the impressionistic social document Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (The Love of Jeanne Ney). Based on a sturm-und-drang story by Ilya Ehrenberg, the film travels from the Crimea to Paris and back again in unfolding a sprawling tale of sociological upheaval. The events are seen through the eyes of Jeanne Ney (Edith Hehanne), who is forced to flee her Russian homeland when her Communist lover kills her diplomat father. The romance between Jeanne and her politicized paramour irrevocably links the lure of radicalism with the call of the flesh. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Running Time: 113 mins

By: Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Georg Wilhelm Pabst's The Love of Jeanne Ney (Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney) stars Edith Jehanne as Jeanne, a young woman living in post-World War I Europe. After her father (Eugen Jensen) is murdered for espionage by her Bolshevik lover Andreas (Uno Henning), she travels to Paris to stay with her uncle Raymond (Adolf E. Licho) and his blind daughter Gabrielle (Brigitte Helm). While working at her uncle's detective agency, Jeanne encounters Khalibiev (Fritz Rasp), a sleazy conman who intends to marry Gabrielle, steal her father's money and murder her. Failing in this, Khalibiev commits another robbery/murder and leaves evidence at the scene implicating Andreas, newly arrived in Paris on Revolution business. Jeanne knows Andreas is innocent, having been with him on that fateful night, but she needs an additional witness to confirm the truth. She knows Khalibiev saw them together, and gives chase when he leaves town.

The story here (adapted from Ilya Ehrenberg's novel) is standard issue melodrama, with enough violence and implied sexuality to justify its U.K. release under the more salacious title Lusts of the Flesh. There's a pre-code frankness to Pabst's directorial approach that makes for interesting viewing in and of itself, and Fritz Rasp's Khalibiev is at least as amoral and nasty a villain as, say, J.R. Ewing, going so far as to solicit a kiss from Jeanne while his blind fiancée strokes his hand on the other side of the table. Bloodstains and corpses are revealed onscreen, and personal morality is treated more flexibly here than in contemporary Hollywood productions.

But these darker plot elements, while surprising, are not nearly as forward-looking as Pabst's cinematography. The Love of Jeanne Ney relies very little on intertitles, preferring to tell its story with visuals - close-up shots of handwritten notes and newspaper headlines (often replaced with English-language versions) communicate most of the specifics, while gestures, expressions and actions deliver the human component. Images of mounted armies and bustling cities lend an epic feel to what is essentially a love story under duress, a tale of lovers whose time together is a luxury, not an entitlement. The lead performances are fairly subtle by silent film standards, with naturalistic facial expressions and gestures, though there's plenty of room for mugging on the part of greedy Uncle Raymond and the vile Khalibiev. The film's sophisticated, accelerating pacing seems ahead of its time (aside from some intertitles that overstay their welcome), and Pabst constantly raises the stakes, even as he keeps the film's conclusion unpredictable. There are even a few bits of humor to enliven what would otherwise be a very dark experience.

The Love of Jeanne Ney is billed as "a major rediscovery of silent cinema" on Kino's keepcase copy, and this release (produced by David Shepard) substantiates the merit of the claim. With so many early films now lost to the world, it's great to have this highly cinematic product of the silent era on DVD.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C
Kino on Video presents The Love of Jeanne Ney

Yes another review: THE LOVE OF JEANNE NEY (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1927).
Jeanne Ney (Edith Jehanne) is the daughter of a French diplomat in the Crimea during the Russian Civil War. She falls in love with a soldier named Andreas (Uno Henning), but her life is shattered when her father, who was assisting the White Army in espionage, is killed by her lover, who turns out to be a Bolshevik. Still in love with Andreas, she flees to Paris to work as a secretary to her uncle, the dissolute head of a detective agency. But she is followed there by the lascivious spy and villain Khalibiev (Fritz Rasp), who seduces Jeanne's blind cousin in order to be near her.

As is evident from this summary, the film's plot is rather complicated, and Pabst uses as few intertitles as possible, which requires the viewer to pay close attention in order to follow the story. Yet, despite a certain shapelessness in the material, and a bad performance from Rasp (who chews up the scenery as the bad guy), the film is a stunning exhibition of cinematic style, and represents something of a breakthrough in technique for Pabst. Brilliant camera placement and dynamism (including some daring camera angles), inspired use of objects and setting, and an editing style that cuts on the actors' movements to create a feeling of flow between scenes - all combine to engulf the viewer in a visual experience that was rarely equalled in films of that time.

Jehanne has an alluring presence, although her title role is more of a passive field of conflict for the male characters than an active person in her own right. The picture is sexually frank, while expressing a certain repugnance at the decadence prevalent in Europe after the Great War. It's remarkable that the hero - if the film has a hero - is a Bolshevik who organizes a sailor's rebellion in Toulon. Pabst was working with Karl Freund and Heinrich Mann to make German film more progressive, but he was still operating within the relatively conservative framework of the German production combine UFA. As it turned out, The Love of Jeanne Ney was a smash hit, doubtless because of its combination of romanticism, intrigue, and bold visual style. Overshadowed by Pabst's later work featuring Louise Brooks, this movie deserves to be better known.

I had to since it had a mention of the White Army that the others left out. No one seems to remember that part of history. With all the various reviews, I guess I will let them do the speaking this time...

The Love of Jeanne Ney

This edition from Kino International

Editorial Reviews

Liebe der Jeanne Ney, Die

aka Love of Jeanne Ney-Movie Reviews

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