Pirandello’s 1904 novel has been the source of several films. In L’Herbier’s 1925 silent version, the deliciously morbid fantasy of found freedom and lost identity becomes a witty and subtle comedy-drama, leaving the psychological interpretation to the realm of set design and cinematography. Russian emigré actor Ivan Mosjoukine is droll in the role of Matthew Pascal, the put-upon librarian who seizes upon a false report of his death in order to destroy his old identity and try on some new ones, but who soon finds out that a lack of identity poses its own problems. Michel Simon makes his very funny film debut as Pascal’s grotesque friend Pomino. The meticulous set designs of Alberto Cavalcanti and Lazare Meerson, combined with the studied framing and startling shadows of the cinematography, create a mood of dark illusion. —BAM/PFA
Marcel L’Herbier is unquestionably one of the most important figures in the history of French cinema. His contribution is not restricted to the films he directed, many of which are widely recognised as genuine masterpieces. He also worked actively to promote cinema as an art form in its own right, helping to ensure that France maintained its position of eminence in a medium which was becoming increasingly dominated by the Americans. Moreover, his films and his writings have inspired successive generations of filmmakers, many of whom went on to become just as influential in French cinema.
L’Herbier was born in Paris is 1888. Having studied law at the Sorbonne, he was drawn to literature (particularly the works of Oscar Wilde and Nietzsche) and he decided to pursue a career as a writer. He published his first novel, “In the Garden of Secret Games”, in 1914. He wrote a stage play “L’Enfantement du mort, miracle en pourpre, noir et or”, an anti-war piece which was not performed until… read more