Feu Mathias Pascal

Marcel L'Herbier

Ass. R.: Alberto Cavalcanti; Sog.: dal romanzo Il fu Mattia Pascal di Luigi Pirandello; Scen.: Marcel L’Herbier; F.: Jean Letort, Jimmy Berliet, Fédote Bourgassoff, Nicolas Roudakoff, Paul Guichard; Scgf.: Alberto Cavalcanti, Lazare Meerson; Mu.: J.E. Szyfer, M. Graells (non accreditato); Int: Ivan Mosjoukine (Mathias Pascal), Marcelle Pradot (Romilde), Loïs Moran (Adrienne Paléari), Pierre Batcheff (Scipion Papiano), Jean Hervé (Térence Papiano), Michel Simon (Jérôme Pomino), Isaure Douvan (Batta Malagna), Solange Sicard (Olive Mesmi), Jeanne Saint-Bonnet, Jeanne Pierson, Marthe Belot (Madame Pascal), Pauline Carton, Georges Térof (il giocatore della roulette innamorato del n. 12), Philippe Hériat (il viceassessore); Prod.: Cinégraphic-Films L’Herbier / Films Albatros; Pri. pro.: 7 agosto 1925. 35 mm. D.: 170’ a 18 f/s.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Unlike the story of Inhumaine, that of Feu Mathias Pascal (1925) has all the requisites for distinction: it is adapted from a novel by none less than Pirandello, the first text by this writer to be adapted to the screen. Further, to incarnate Mathias, L’Herbier has recourse to the fine Russian actor, an emigré in Paris, Ivan Mozhukhin. But this is a co-production with the celebrated Albatros company, directed by Alexander Kamenka, and it has to be reckoned that it is the quite free “Albatros style” (compare Mozhukhin’s own Le Brasier Ardent, Epstein’s Le Lion des Mogols, Volkov’s Kean) rather than the best rigour of L’Herbier that predominates in Mathias: picturesque tricks, “spiritual” angle-shots, dream sequences on black backgrounds, etc. It is a film of great virtuosity, passing lightly from rural Kammerspiel to burlesque fantasy, with an incursion into “expressionist” comedy of manners; at the same time, everything here contributes to create that unity in diversity which is lacking in L’Inhumaine, remarkable casting, fine images, beautiful design,  “strong” story. Yet the film is a retrogression in the history of cinema, as in the work of L’Herbier: it takes us back to the idea of direction in the service of an anecdote: it is Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (1915), [which L’Herbier would remake in 1937 – ed], re-examined and corrected according to the aesthetic of the Russians in Paris: the double function of the editing, which L’Herbier had already sketched in three of his films, here seems totally absent: at every level it is not a matter of finding a new trick to reveal the character of Mathias-Mosjoukine, but every sequence to find a new style which will “reflect” the next stage of the story.

Noël Burch, Marcel L’Herbier, Cinéma d’aujourd’hui – Seghers, Paris, 1973

In most silent film scores, there are a number of musical thematic materials that, through the process of character development, blossom (or decay) in the course of the film. Composers tend to develop those passages in the traditional manner, through melodic and rhythmic exploration. Nevertheless, with Feu Mathias Pascal a much deeper treatment was required, as the score, over a span of nearly three hours, sees two lifetimes come and go, is constantly walking the thin line between the various forms of hysterics (and genres) and heavily relies on narrative, visual and expressive nuances. Altogether, the film’s complexity and modernity needed a particularly careful music approach. The germinal voice in this score is the cembalo (harpsichord), which I used as a point of reflection for Pascal, while all the musical material pass through the hands of the player at one point or another. No theme, however, is heard the same way twice, as it changes and shifts according to Pascal’s state of mind and the way he is affected by certain events. Although the score is not overtly Italian in form, it does plant its feet firmly on this soil, as evidenced in the opening Tarantella. As a composer on foreign land, one cannot be unaffected by his surroundings, but rather, hopes to maintain a sense of where he has been. While music in Pirandello’s terms could be nothing but Italian, it is the combination with L’Herbier that makes it borderless.

Timothy Brock

Copy From