Monday, 20 November 2017

A star is re-born… The Sins of Love (1929), UK premier with Ivan Acher, Barbican

This was the UK premier of Hríchy lásky, screened as part of the 21st Made in Prague Festival in partnership with the Czech Centre London and National Film Archive Prague. It’s a great shame we’ve had to wait so long for it is a lovely picture with an intensity and vision that tells an old tale in an unusual way.

Like many silent films of this period the cast was international with Italian actress Marcella Albani, the German Walter Rilla and dapper Frenchman Gaston Jacquet as a cross between Adolphe Menjou and David Niven… a smooth operator! Josef Rovenský plays the main role and does so powerfully with a Jannings-esque physicality allied to soulful eyes that convey the utmost misery on a face that you’d expect to naturally hope for the best.

Karel Lamac was an actor as well as a film maker as the Czech Centre’s Renata Clark explained in her introduction – staring in films with Anny Ondra, setting up a film studio together as well as dating. The two never married yet remained close and he was to die in her arms in 1952.

Here he directs with the assured hand of experience and you’d be hard pressed to separate The Sins of Love from a German or French production.

Josef Rovenský and Marcella Albani
The story is one of the oldest in cinema but with a twist… successful, middle-aged rural actor Ivan Kristen (Josef Rovenský) who leaves for the city and a bigger stage along with his younger and very noticeable wife, Sona (Marcella Albani) an aspiring actress.

In the Grand Theatre their arrival is unnoticed as Director Eduard Warren (Gaston Jacquet) has just been told by his brattish main actress, Mimi Stevens (Bronislava Livia), that she will not perform in Romeo and Juliet as he didn’t print her name in large enough text in the advertising. Hmm, she looks a little like Anny, I wonder who Karel had in mind?

Now, can you guess what’s going to happen next? There’s only 24 hours until curtain up and all Warren has to do is find a beautiful leading actress who knows the part of Juliet. Even in the confusion and panic he has already clocked Sona in his waiting room and quickly arranges a read-through with his Romeo, actor Richard Kent (Walter Rilla) who is impressed, immediately and in all ways.

Walter Rilla
Fast forward a year and Sona has been established as a star whilst her husband waits for his big break. Meanwhile she has grown close to Richard but her loyalty to Ivan has prevented her from acting on her impulses. Director Warren is also keen, as he is on any young woman… how times change eh?

Sona manages to swing Ivan a lead role and he goes to a dive bar to observe the criminal underclasses. He engages a pick pocket called Ferda Štika (LH Struna) to advise on clothing and criminality and the two strike an unlikely friendship. As with other parts of the film, Lamac is at pains to establish a warmth between the characters and Ferda is not just an archetype he’s going to be loyal to his new friend.

Gaston Jacquet
Ivan’s new play opens well and he’s riding high after a first half in which his groundwork has enabled him to produce a performance of depth with the dress and mannerisms of Ferda. During the interval, he spots Richard on the phone to Sona with a note in his hand clearly in her handwriting. Ivan jumps to conclusions and attacks his rival before being kicked back on stage by an exasperated Warren.
Ferda promises to get the incriminating letter and sets off to burgle Warren’s apartment… what can possibly go wrong?

The closing section is frenetic and moving as the actuality is revealed. It’s not quite what you’d expect but I can say no more…

Josef Rovenský and LH Struna
Rovenský goes through his paces and his character is a believable one: he’s a generous and slightly-deluded man but who doesn’t need to believe the best of themselves? The other main players are also top notch, Gaston Jacquet showing charm enough to convince as the manoeuvring Warren, Marcella Albani the beauteous talent with a heart of gold and Walter Rilla as her conflicted lover, restrained by honour.

This is another great Czech film as we’re now expecting every year from Made in Prague!

Czech musician and artist Ivan Acher performed a part-improvised and composed score using samples of found sounds, jazz-age rhythms and freshly-recorded brass. The music was near-ambient and reminiscent of the electronica of The Caretaker aka James Leyland Kirby – haunted echoes of distant dance-floors, the audio ghosts of good times past. It’s the kind of music I’d listen to on its own but here it set a mood but was not flexible enough to respond to the film’s emotional narrative.

It is good to experiment and whilst not to everyone’s tastes, the music and the images gradually came into balance whilst never quite sustaining alignment. Still some lovely soundscapes all the same.

Made in Prague continues until the end of November and details are available on the Czech Centre website. Details of Ivan Archer’s multi-media expressions are to be found on his website.

PS. My afternoon at the Barbican was completed by listening to some fearsome free jazz from Estonian prog-metal-jazz group Heavy Beauty whose blistering new album, Propaganda is out now!

No comments:

Post a Comment