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Catering to the interests of international quality arthouse cinema and all aspects relating to distribution, promotion and networking at www.digitfilms.com. Catch up on pictoral reports of events in exotic places and neorealistic works on www.cinepobre.netfirms.com. Contact Helen at helentheresa@gmail.com
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L’ÎLE ENCHANTÉE (LutèceFilm, FR 1926)
Regia/dir., scen: Henry Roussell; f./ph: Maurice Velle, Paul Portier; scg./des: Georges Jacouty, Gaston Dumesnil; riprese/filmed: 7-11.1926 (Corsica [Plana, Evisa], Caen (steelworks), La Grave, Vals les Bains; Studios Menchen, Épinay); data uscita/released: 13.5.1927; cast: Rolla Norman (Francesco della Rocca), Jacqueline Forzane (Gisèle Rault), Jean Garat (Firmin Rault), Gaston Jacquet (Gabriel Lestrange), Renée Héribel (Chilina Leonardi), Paul Jorge (Martino della Rocca), Roby Guichard (Pepino), Geymond Vital (Ferrari), Pierre Delmonde (Sergeant Leonardi), Mario Nasthasio (Paglietti, the creditor), Jules Hamon (bailiff); 35mm, 2394 m., 111' (19 fps);fonte copia/print source: Archives Françaises du Film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.
Didascalie in francese / French intertitles.

Film restaurato dagli Archives Françaises du Film du CNC con i fondi del Ministero della Cultura per la salvaguardia del patrimonio cinematografico. / Restored by the Archives Françaises du Film/CNC, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture’s film preservation plan.

In his heyday as a filmmaker in the 1920s, Henry Roussell was held in high regard by professionals, critics, and peers. Two of his early films, La Faute d’Odette Maréchal (1920) and Visages voilés, âmes closes (1921), even enjoyed the rare privilege of U.S. distribution. When Paramount created a European production outpost in Paris, it chose Roussell to write and direct its first French production, Les Opprimés (1922), a 1.5 million-franc costume drama set in Spanish-occupied Flanders in the 17th century, which made a screen star of Raquel Meller. The Spanish singer gratefully commissioned Roussell to write, produce, and direct a film for her: the result was Violettes impériales (1923), one of the decade’s biggest commercial successes (which enjoyed an afterlife as a stage operetta and film musical). Abel Gance admired Roussell enough to ask that he collaborate as an associate director on his upcoming production of Napoléon; Roussell politely declined (as it turned out, he was preparing his own Bonapartist romance, Destinée, but Gance didn’t take offense). And when Roussell briefly returned to his erstwhile métier to co-star in Jacques Feyder’s Les Nouveaux messieurs (1928), the industry warmly applauded the man and the artist for his professionalism, patrician irony, and taste.
The rescue of a handful of Roussell’s silent films in recent years – notably Violettes impériales, with Raquel Meller in all her plangent dramatic splendour – has made it possible to begin a re-assessment of his work: Roussell was not an innovator, nor a visual stylist, nor a razzle-dazzle technician. His directing was classically harmonious at best. His narrative sense could be full of naïve implausibilities, but as a former star of the Boulevard theatre of the Belle Époque, he had a sure sense of “well-made” drama. Naturally, he loved actors, despite lapses in casting judgment (André Roanne in the Meller vehicles – but they were a romantic item at the time!). He knew how to choose his collaborators, and it is certain that cameraman Jules Kruger made a major contribution to Roussell’s three films with Meller (before going on to shoot Gance’s Napoléon and L’Herbier’s L’Argent). Too, Roussell wrote his own screenplays from his own original stories; he shunned the facile trend of adapting hit plays and novels (sadly, he finished his career as an aging contract director canning Boulevard comedies at the Pathé-Natan sound studios). Diverse as his subjects were, he was drawn to themes of “culture shock” – Muslims vs. Christians in Visages voilés, âmes closes, traditional Judaism vs. assimilated Jewry in La Terre promise, simple provincial life vs. corrupt court life in Violettes impériales, etc.
L’Île enchantée is unlike anything else Roussell ever did, and is perhaps his best film. Most atypically, it is a very physical film, a Corsican Western of sorts, full of pursuits and cliff-hanging incident, all directed with vigor. Roussell’s hero is a Corsican outlaw wanted by local gendarmes for a vendetta killing. He is also pitted against an industrialist who has built a steelworks in the region and wants to raze the outlaw’s ruined ancestral castle. The protagonist then falls in love with the industrialist’s daughter, who tragically thinks she can bring both men to see reason, but only succeeds in provoking more tragedy and permanently alienating the outlaw from society.
Roussell shot much of the film on location in Corsica, whose wild, beautiful mountainscapes, canyons, and villages contribute to the theme of Progress vs. Tradition. The evocative steelworks scenes were filmed in a plant in Normandy and echo Roussell’s breakthrough feature, Âme de bronze (1917), a propaganda war melodrama set in an ironworks factory. (There is also a reminder of Roussell’s villainous turn in André Antoine’s The Corsican Brothers in 1915.)Having passed the innovative Jules Kruger on to Gance, Roussell renewed his collaboration with Maurice Velle, an older, now-forgotten but superb cameraman whom Roussell may have met during his acting-directing debuts at Éclair. Best of all, Roussell cast faultlessly: Rolla Norman, who had a second-rank film career, is like a romantic, virile figure out of Mérimée’s Colomba or Dumas. Jacqueline Forzane, whose career was sadly brief, is touching as a modern, idealistic professional woman confused by love and filial devotion. There is also a poignant supporting performance by Paul Jorge, who was the saintly Archbishop Myriel in Henri Fescourt’s Les Misérables (1925) and would shortly play a compassionate priest in Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc – here he is the outlaw’s grandfather, who clings proudly to the ancestral hea

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Helen Dobrensky
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