Ménilmontant by Dimitri Kirsanoff – (as part of Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and ’30s) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
January 23, 2010 by Dennis Amith
Dimitri Kirsanoff’s 1926 silent film “Ménilmontant” is his true masterpiece and one of the 24 silent films included in this magnificent avante-garde DVD collection! For films who want to experience experimental cinema from the 1920s and ’30s, this first volume in the Kino Video’s “Avante-Garde” series is highly recommended!
DVD TITLE: Ménilmontant – (as part of Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and ’30s)
DURATION: 37 minutes | (387 minutes for entire two-disc set)
DVD INFORMATION: Original black and white version, 1:33:1, Subtitles: English Intertitles, English and French with English subtitles
RATED: Not Rated
COMPANY: Kino Video
RELEASE DATE: August 2, 2005
Written and Directed by Dmitri Kirsanoff
Produced by Dimitri Kirsanoff
Cinematography by Leonce Crouan, Dimitri Kirsanoff
Edited by Dimitri Kirsanoff
New Music Score by Paul Mercer
Nadia Sibirskaia as Younger Sister
Yolande Beaulieu as Older Sister
Guy Belmont as Young Man
In the latter half of the 20th Century, Raymond Rohauer was one of the nation’s foremost proponents of experimental cinema. Programming diverse films at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles, and making the films in his personal archive available for commercial distribution, he helped preserve and promote avant-garde cinema.
This two-DVD collection assembles some of the most influential and eclectic short films in the Rohauer Collection, including works by Man Ray, Hans Richter, Marcel Duchamp, Watson & Webber, Fernand Léger, Joris Ivens, Dimitri Kirsanoff, Jean Epstein, and Orson Welles.
- Le Retour à la raison
(Man Ray, France, 1923, 2 min.)
(Man Ray, France, 1926, 16 min.)
- L’Étoile de mer
(Man Ray, France, 1928, 15.5 min.)
- Les Mystères du château du Dé
(Man Ray, France, 1929, 20 min.)
- The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra
(Slavko Vorkapich, Robert Florey, U.S., 1928, 13 min.)
(Dimitri Kirsanoff, France, 1926, 37 min.)
- Brumes d’automne
(Dimitri Kirsanoff, France, 1928, 12 min.)
- Lot in Sodom
(James Sibley Watson, Melville Webber, U.S., 1933, 27 min.)
- Rhythmus 21
(Hans Richter, Germany, 1921, 3 min.)
- Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts Before Breakfast)
(Hans Richter, Germany, 1928, 9 min.)
- Anémic cinéma
(Marcel Duchamp, France, 1926, 6.5 min.)
- Ballet mécanique
(Fernand Léger, France, 1924, 11 min.)
- Symphonie diagonale
(Viking Eggeling, France, 1924, 7 min.)
- Le Vampire
(Jean Painlevé, France, 1939, 8.5 min.)
- The Hearts of Age
(Orson Welles, William Vance, U.S., 1934, 8 min.)
(Ernö Metzner, Germany, 1928, 22 min.)
- La glace à trois faces
(Jean Epstein, France, 1927, 33 min.)
- Le Tempestaire
(Jean Epstein, France, 1947, 22.5 min.)
- Romance sentimentale
(Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori V. Alexandrov, France, 1930, 20 min.)
- Autumn Fire
(Herman G. Weinberg, U.S., 1931, 15 min.)
(Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, U.S., 1921, 10 min.)
- La Coquille et le clergyman
(Germaine Dulac, France, 1926, 31.5 min.)
- Regen (Rain)
(Joris Ivens, the Netherlands, 1929, 14 min.)
(Ralph Steiner, U.S., 1929, 12 min.)
- Even — As You and I
(Roger Barlow, Harry Hay, LeRoy Robbins, U.S., 1937, 12 min.)
In 2005, Kino Video began their “Avante-Garde” series from the collection of Raymond Rohauer. An American film collector and distributor who was one of the nation’s foremost proponents of experimental cinema. He was involved with programming diverse films at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles and making the films in his personal archive available for commercial distribution and promoting avante-garde cinema.
He formed a company back in 1954 when Buster Keaton offered him prints of his silent films and was also involved with the preservation of out-takes from Charlie Chaplin films when Chaplin was forced to leave the US back in 1952.
With a large collection of these silent films, Kino Video released the first collection titled “Avante-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and ’30s”, a two-disc DVD set featuring 24 silent films by Man Ray, Hans Richter, Marcel Duchamp, Watson & Webber, Fernand Léger, Joris Ivens, Dimitri Kirsanoff, Jean Epstein, and Orson Welles.
One of the films included in this first set that I wanted to see was from Dimitri Kirsanoff, a director from Estonia and a filmmaker, considered part of the French Impressionist movement in film. But primarily known for make his experimental films inexpensively.
One of his best works is the 1926 silent film “Ménilmontant” named after a Paris neighborhood (the location where the films “Casque d’or” and “Red Balloon” were filmed).
The medium-length silent film begins with a maniac inside a home where two parents are trying to escape. The two try to run but the maniac manages to get an ax and murder both the parents.
We then see two innocent sisters playing gleefully and having fun. When the younger sister returns home, she sees a group of people looking down in the ground and to her shock, she sees her dead parents and runs off to her older sister in tears. We then see the two sisters mourning their parent’s at the cemetery and now leaving their home with nothing and having to start a new life.
The film fast forwards to a time where the sisters are now a few years older are now working at a decoration company during the day, while at night, the sisters are prostitutes.
We then see a young man (played by Guy Belmont) looking for women. As the two go through various neighborhoods waiting for men, it is the younger sister (played by Nadia Sibirskaia) who finds the young man first and you see the older sister (played by Yolande Beaulieu) peeking at them from the corner.
The film then focuses on the younger sister as she begins seeing the young man and him wanting to have sex with her but she seems to be not ready just yet. She goes up to his room and in the end, she decides to give in to her desire for the night. The older sister notices that her younger sister has not come home and worries over her.
The following morning we see the young sister now thinking about the years when she was an innocent girl and in someway, you feel a sense of regret. But the younger sister has fallen in love with the young man.
Each day she goes back to the neighborhood in hopes to seeing him but days and days continue to past and she doesn’t see him. One day, she finally sees him but this time, finds out that he has hooked up with her older sister and watches as he brings her to his home.
Fast forward and we find out the younger sister has given birth to a baby. To make things worse, it appears the two are now are now homeless (it appears that since discovering her sister with the man, she hasn’t returned home) and the younger sister contemplates killing both herself and the baby.
Will the younger sister go through with the suicide?
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Ménilmontant” is featured in 1:33:1, black and white. The film looks very good but is not pristine as scratches, dust and film degradation can be seen at times. But for the most part, this 85-year-old film still looks very good. The silent film is accompanied by a score by Paul Mercer.
The musical score is not optional but fortunately, the music matches the film perfectly. It’s a well done musical score incorporating strings that shows the subtlety and gentleness of certain scenes but then starts to go awry as the younger sister is at her lowest point in her life.
The film does not include any intertitles and no subtitles are needed.
There are film notes by film critic/historian Elliott Stein who gives a brief introduction to Dimitri Kirsanoff and what the film is about.
This is a true masterpiece by Dimitri Kirsanoff.
This is the first silent film I watched with no intertitles and the first to see disturbing scenes. Although not very disturbing for viewers these days, I can imagine that this film may have touched a nerve back in 1926, especially as the film begins immediately with two people being murdered.
But what I was amazed that during the film, Kirsanoff manages to capture the younger sister’s emotions and habits. The younger sister has a habit of biting on her fingernail and playing with her nose. These natural emotions that most filmmakers typically don’t usually capture on film, especially for its female lead. Nadia Sirbirskaia’s facial emotions are shown with such clarity, Kirsanoff’s close-ups of her are truly ravishing and yet heartbreaking at times. We literally see her character from her most happiest moment to her worst.
Kirsanoff also manages to showcase flashbacks, scenic shots and camera angles but these montage of Paris in the 1920’s with the cars, the crowded people, the nice areas and not so nice areas with trash all over the ground and during the most sexual parts of the silent film, these montages are then mixed with a woman’s body indicating that the younger sister and the young man have had sex.
“Ménilmontant” is such a wonderful silent film that manages to feature everything from disturbing to romantic scenes but also showcasing Kirsanoff’s part in French Impressionist Cinema. Kirsanoff may not have done well when sound was introduced in films but he was able to create many films with “Ménilmontant” being his true work of art and his ultimate masterpiece.
“Ménilmontant” can be seen on the DVD set “Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and ’30s”. Definitely recommended!
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