El Dorado was made just three years after L’Herbier’s first film and is a highly disciplined work with an eerie cohesion. It allowed L’Herbier to further refine his ambition to mix the poetic, artistic and architectural all in one cinematic experience. It also featured the first synchronised, purpose-written soundtrack in French film with Marius-François Gaillard’s score, without which L’Herbier felt the story would be “crippled” (it was lost until 1983 and a full orchestrated version is used for the Gaumont DVD edition).
|Painter and model at L'Alhambra|
|Absence as the heart grows stronger...|
Sibilla seems to embody gypsy freedom but she is bound by her obligations, dancing now whilst upstairs her son lies gravely ill. L’Herbier cuts quickly throughout and here he switches between the warmth of the lively bar and the cold grey sickroom, dominated by a huge black cross on the wall.
After the show, Sibilla writes a letter to the child’s father Esteria (Georges Paulais) who, in a flashback, we see snarling lustfully over the young woman… he’s had his fun and has no intention of paying the price. Esteria is now a very successful man who is about to marry his legitimate daughter off to a nobleman.
Amongst these two unmovable extremes is placed a surprising young couple, Esteria’s daughter Iliana (Marcelle Pradot) and the man she really loves, the young Swedish painter Hedwick (Jaque Catelain).
|Hedwick - an old New Romantic...|
Hedwick’s model is Sibilla but in their afternoon session at the Alhambra he cannot concentrate on her because he is thinking of Iliana. The young couple meet at the palace and there is some stunning composition as they walk through the courtyards… You feel drenched by the place and the distant views of Granada.
|The Alhambra and Granada|
|Jaque Catelain and Marcelle Pradot|
The ending feels like drama for the sake of it but someone had to suffer and, metaphysically, the future is as surely closed off for Sibilla as her suicide suggests. It fits the mood of this moodiest of silent films.
It’s L’Herbier’s vision that dominates your thoughts as he pulls so many strands together in the service of his story. There are innovations that work and others that feel over-thought but you can't knock the ambition.
|Iliana and her maid as in a photo album...|