This edition has been painstakingly reconstructed by the French Cinematheque in collaboration with Potemkin films. It is based on a 9.5mm Baby Pathé abridgement (intended for family viewing) and one surviving reel of 35mm including some censored scenes featuring startling nudity - their removal from view ironically ensuring their eventual survival and public display 80 years on.
|In the court of the Capetian King...|
Hans Stüwe is impressively larger than life as Cagliostro, charming the courts of Europe with his prestidigitation and legerdemain. He turns lead into gold in some wonderfully atmospheric shots and sets the scenes with audacious use of a disco-ball…
Stüwe is striking enough to carry this off but he’s less convincing as a paramour and his love affair with Lorenza (Renée Héribel) initially lacks conviction, but maybe this was left on the Pathe cutting room floor? He woos Lorenza in a missing section and we quickly learn that it was not the adventurer Cagliostro she fell for but the man Balsamo who, for a time, stopped the circus.
|Suzanne Bianchetti and Hans Stüwe|
In lavish surroundings, Cagliostro presents Jeanne to the court and raises money to help her, she is accepted back into royal patronage and becomes the Queen’s lady in waiting.
|Illa Meery, not just bare feet...|
But the game is soon up and Cagliostro is given over to the Marquis de Espada for questioning in his hi-tech arabesque palace – sliding doors and automated. Tied to a pillar he breaks free as the Marquis’ “questions” Lorenza in front of him… the anti gradually being striped away to reveal just the hero.
|Hans Stüwe and Suzanne Bianchetti|
There’s a DJ Cam cut up which could be perfectly suited to what is in effect a cut up of a film. He sounds very much like a Gallic version of the great DJ Shadow (a jazzier Endtroducing…?) but, even though his invention is entertaining, it lacks emotional flexibility and rides rough-shod over some of the narrative.
The piano accompaniment from Mathieu Regnault is more period appropriate and moves with the story. I understood the action more with his playing and had a better connection… there’s some lovely phrasing and it’s just more sympatico.
Both musicians make the very most of what remains and so should we. It’s difficult to make a case for this being up there with The Chess Player and other late silent era period classics, but it’s good looking and well played. The story is intact and there is sufficient drama left to have you on the edge of your seat right till the end.
The DVD is available direct from Potemkin although I got mine from the lovely BFI shop. It features an extensive booklet (tout en Français) including a fascinating essay written for May 1929 editions of Cinémagazine by Marcel Carné who was an assistant on the film. Whilst referencing lost scenes such as an apparently large-scale village fete, Carné elaborates on the set design and underlines the considerable will of his German director who, speaking hardly any French, had this film in the can within 60 days.
Not bad going for a multi-national blockbuster that interweaves so much of courtesans, kings and conjuring...