Manuela Padoan (Gaumont Pathé Archives)
Recorded music composed by Alvaro Bello Bodenhöfer
Gaston Ravel is one of the great undervalued figures of French cinema. This wasn’t always the case: at one time, his work was held to be the most reliable in top-tier cinema that didn’t shy away from references to the literary canon. It is in this light that we must view the work of Gaston Ravel.
After starting out with Gaumont in the 1910s and a short stint in Italy, from 1919 to 1921, Gaston Ravel returned to France to undertake the ambitious screen adaptation of the Beaumarchais trilogy: Le Barbier de Séville, Le Mariage de Figaro and the rare gem, La Mère coupable, all under the title of Figaro. It’s a thrilling example of what French cinema was capable of producing at the dawn of talking pictures, in a tradition of intelligence and clarity, far removed from the avant-garde, by then in its death throes. It was a bold venture from a man sensitive to all the arts, including music hall, since he entrusted the title role to a famous artistic dancer, Edmond van Duren. This boldness extended to the management of the lavish and beautiful design, particularly the costumes, designed by the illustrious J.K. Benda (known for his magnificent work on La Kermesse héroïque by Jacques Feyder and Le Joueur d’échecs by Jean Dréville).
Gaston Ravel was also a pre-eminent
filmmaker when it came working with handsome men (van Duren aside, there was Tony d’Algy and Jean Weber), beautiful women (Marie Bell, Arlette Marchal), and stunning architecture (le château de Rochefort-en-Yvelines where the last part of the movie was filmed).
These virtues place him on a level with Raymond Bernard for his love of ostentation and with Marcel L’Herbier for his concern with the transmission of culture combined with a somewhat precious approach to his work. His apotheosis – the premiere gala opening of Figaro at the Paris Opera – was short-lived, as talking pictures gained ground in French cinema. He died in Cannes in 1958 with his friend and co-producer, Tony Lekain, nearby. He was practically forgotten after 25 years deprived of the art form that he had so eminently served.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dalle pièce Le Barbier de Séville ou La Précaution inutile (1775) e La Folle
Journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (1778) di Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Scen.: Tony Lekain. F.: Emile Pierre, Albert Duverger. Scgf.: Tony Lekain. Int.: Edmond van Duren (Figaro), Arlette Marchal (Rosine), Odette Talazac (Marceline), Genica Missirio (Bogaerts), Marie Bell (Suzanne), Jean Weber (Chérubin), Tony D’Algy (il conte Almaviva), José Davert (Basile), Léon Bélières (dottor Bartholo), Roland Caillaux (Grippe-Soleil). Prod.: Franco-Film. DCP. Bn.
If you like this, we suggest:
Pauline Saint-Hilaire (StudioCanal), Roy Menarini (Università di Bologna) and Anna Masecchia (Università di Napoli)
Pauline Saint-Hilaire (StudioCanal) and Roy Menarini (Università di Bologna)
Music composed and directed by Maud Nelissen, performed by The Sprockets:
Daphne Balvers (soprano saxophone), Frido ter Beek (alto saxophone), Peter Keijsers (trombone), Marco Ludemann (banjo, jazz guitar, mandolin), Alexander Vocking (contrabass), Rombout Stoffers (drums, effects, accordion) and Maud Nelissen (piano)