Scen.: Aleksandr Amfiteatrov. F.: Boris Zavelev. Int.: Zoja Barancevič (Nelli Rainceva), Ol’ga Rachmanova (madre di Nelli), Aleksandr Cheruvimov (padre di Nelli), Konstantin Zubov (impiegato Petrov), Vera Pavlova (Tanja), Janina Mirato (Koreckaja), Michail Stal’skij (Leonid Andreev). Prod.: Aleksandr Chanžonkov. 35mm. L.: 714 m. D.: 39’ a 16 f/s. Bn.
The film adaptation of Aleksandr Amfiteatrov’s simple prose, a typical early twentieth-century text on the relationship between master and servant, is a kind of variation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Strindberg was very popular in Russia, so much so that just a year before Jakov Protazanov had already directed a version of Miss Julie (Plebej, 1915).
Frustrated Nelli Rainceva attends a party organized by some servants and begins a relationship with her father’s clerk. Her life soon precipitates into an abyss of suffering with death being the only way out. The film opens next to the lead character’s coffin and is structured as a flashback: a maid finds the diary of her deceased mistress. The story turns to a fever pitch instead of revealing itself: the viewer does not wait for the ending, which he already knows, but gets caught up in the plot. Not only is the narrative structure unusual for Evgenij Bauer but so is his treatment of the lead character, who is never secondary to the decorative background: medium shots and close-ups of Zoja Barancevič as Nelli shift the focus from the external circumstances to her inner vicissitudes. A student of theater director Konstantin Mardžanov, Zoja Barancevič was very young when she signed a three year contract with the Chanžonkov production company. Performing in twelve films a year, she quickly became the star of pre-revolutionary cinema with her solid acting skills (which Vera Cholodnaja did not have) and photogenic qualities (often missing in theatrically trained actors).
In Nelli Rainceva Evgenij Bauer used the chiaroscuro techniques that dominate his films. Even the subtitle underscores his directorial intentions: the Russian term dvigopis, a calque of the French cinématographe, alludes to the concept of the ‘writing’ of motion. With brushstrokes of light, Bauer tried to challenge the flatness of the screen and create a composition with depth, especially apparent in the scene of the servants’ dance.