There are some wonderful compositions using the director’s typically well-designed sets through which his actors move through amazing shifts in light and tone. It also features possibly the earliest tracking shot as the camera follows the main character, pulling the viewer and their sympathy behind the troubled young woman.
|The first dolly?|
Bauer did have sympathy for the revolutionary cause as his later films show and, whilst here he depicts some of the underclass as criminal, there's none more listless and decadent than the idle rich, with their pointless parties and affordable morality...
|Depth, design and despair|
Vera is seen reluctantly joining in with the party and then breaks away from the dancing and moves camera-forward to rest on a chair where she is briefly harassed by two male admirers. Shoo-ing them away she stands and walks down set to be followed briefly by Nikolai Kozlovski’s camera – a short, stunning moment of film history.
|Let there be more light...|
Vera’s mother takes her to give aid to the poor who seem pre-occupied by drinking and gambling… society no doubt to blame but… In the shadowy loft they encounter Maksim Petrov (V. Demert) who pretends to have injured his arm, Vera’s applies a bandage and Maksim correctly spies a sucker.
|Vera in the slums|
In Maksim’s flat the tale takes its pivotal turn as Vera is raped and ends up killing her assailant as he falls into a drunken stupor… Bauer doesn’t show specifics but enough to make the audience aware what outrage has taken place.
|V. Demert and Nina Chernova|
But, over time, she returns to society and meets the handsome Prince Dolskij (A. Ugrjumov). The two start a romance but Vera starts having visions of the man she murdered and falls ill. Recovering she prepares herself to tell her love the truth…
But the Prince, seemingly prepared to forgive her anything, is unable to process the full extent of her news… particularly the fact that she has “known” another, no matter the circumstances – in the context of the time an obviously difficult situation as the film acknowledges.
The Prince casts Vera out of his life and by the time he relents and realises the mistake he’s made, it is too late and she has gone. He spends a fortune on trying to find her but the private detectives comes can find nothing.
|A. Ugrjumov and Nina Chernova|
By chance an almost exhausted Prince has been persuaded to attend the theatre and he looks on in astonishment recognising his lost love.
Will they be reconciled? And is it the twilight for more than one person’s soul?
A fascinating historical document, Twilight of a Woman's Soul shows how many of Bauer's techniques were already in place as well as how far he would travel by his later films – After Death (1915) and A Life for a Life (1916) are covered elsewhere on the blog.
Nina Chernova acts well as the tortured star and never drifts overboard... understated and naturalistic.
What a remarkable culture Russia had at this time, so sophisticated and European – the nobility often spent more time in France than Moscow – and yet so near to societal collapse. The seeds of revolutionary wildfire were laid long before this period though and the fateful catalyst was mere months away when this film was released.
I watched the BFI DVD which contains The Dying Swan along with After Death and a nifty video essay by Bauer expert Yuri Tsivian. It's available direct from the BFI site.