Sog.: dall’omonimo romanzo di Antonio Fogazzaro. Scen.: Carmine Gallone. F.: Giovanni Grimaldi. Int.: Lyda Borelli (Marina di Malombra), Amleto Novelli (Corrado Silla), Augusto Mastripietri (conte Cesare), Amedeo Ciaffi (Steinegge), Consuelo Spada (Edith Steinegge), Giulia Cassini-Rizzotto (contessa Salvador), Francesco Cacace (conte Salvador). Prod.: Cines 35mm. L.: 1516 m. (incompleto, l. orig.: 1705 m). D.: 83’ a 19 f/s.Tinted and toned
Once upon a time there was a little local film archive called Cineteca di Bologna. And there were three boys, fascinated by silent cinema, a lost world they imagined from invisible films such as Malombra, and mythical actresses such as Lyda Borelli. They started to search for Italian silent films, helped by older film lovers. What then ensued is the fairytale of Il Cinema Ritrovato, resulting in the rediscovery not only of many lost Italian silent films, but of a much wider cultural heritage.
The case of Malombra was an early encouraging proof that not all lost films are lost forever: in 1985 a can found in Trient turned out to contain the first reel, and in 1991 an almost complete nitrate print was located in Uruguay. Research, rediscovery and restoration made Gallone’s work visible again.
Malombra is a film flaunting a gorgeous visual style, intent on drawing the audience into a magical spell of images, cast by enchanting landscapes, a romantically sinister castle and the spectacular performance of Lyda Borelli. Possessed by inner demons she unleashes glances and gestures, or lies in a boat among cushions and flowers, both languid victim and fatal Lorelei, her body emanating a shimmering aura. The first reel ends with one of the most impressive scenes of this film and any diva film: Marina di Malombra/Lyda Borelli unties her hair, lets herself be possessed by madness – or is it Cecilia’s spirit? – wraps her face in her streaming hair, her deranged expression changing her appearance into that of a Maenad, and finally, she faints and falls to the ground.
The plot is drawn in such a perfunctory way that spectators who have not read (or do not remember) the gothic novel Malombra (1881) by Antonio Fogazzaro have no way to know who is exactly who in the film, how the characters are related to each other and why they behave as they do. Moreover, modern audiences might miss narrative clues given by elements such as dresses. Marina arrives at the castle dressed and veiled in black, the mourning dress hinting at the reason for her arrival: she was recently orphaned and has come to live with her uncle. And later on, another mourning dress informs the public that the count has died as a result of Marina’s nightly attack.
But then, as a famous film director said so well, screenplays are only a distraction from what is really important in cinema.