Early & Silent Film

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Ludzie bez jutra / People with No Tomorrow, Poland 1919.

Posted by keith1942 on November 12, 2016

poland_10_ludzie

This film was part of the programme of ‘Polish Silents’ at the 2016 Il Giornate del Cinema Muto. It was interesting for a number of reasons. It was the only feature example from the late teens. It was also, as the title suggests, an extremely downbeat story. This was based on an affair that involved a Russian officer, and it may well be the that the film was partly aimed at the Russian market, where doom and gloom [before the revolution] was the order of the day.

The actual affair, between a Polish actress and a Russian Officer, was notorious at the time. It occurred in the 1890s but the ripples continued after the events, It was the source for both a short story and novella, as well as featuring in the press and in legal histories. This film version had to wait until 1921 for a release. This was partly due to the complaints by the family of the actual actress involved. This also led to several changes of titles till the present one. This title give a rather misleading sense of the film, which is very much in traditional melodramatic mode.

Lola (Halina Bruczówna) is the new star actress recruited by theatre director Pawel Lenin (Pawel Owerŧŧo). She arrives and is imperious and demanding. She also displaces the existing star Helena (Helena Sulima). However, Pawel is smitten with Lola and indulges her whims and she is a crowd puller for the theatre. She also exerts her magnetism on two young officers. There is Captain Alfred Runicz (Jósef Wegrzyn), a Calvary officer and Jerzy Kierski (Stanislaw Czapelski), a fellow officer. Lola plays the competing men against each other. However, Alfred is already engaged to Pawel’s daughter Maria (Maria Hryniewiczówna). This provokes problems with her family and the complications are stirred by the jealous Helena.

Matters come to a head when Alfred and Jerzy fight a duel. Alfred is wounded and to add insult to injury he is prosecuted for breaking duelling laws. He is sentenced and cashiered from the regiment. Finally Helena shows Alfred an incriminating letter from Lola and he shoots Lola. Fairly downbeat and no future for the central protagonists.

poland_11_ludzie

The style of the film is rather typical of early film.

“characteristically theatrical: slow paced and psychological, with virtuoso acting, complex stenography, a static camera, little depth in staging, and simple, flat lighting.” (Festival Catalogue).

There is not the depth of field that finds in some of the Russian films of the teens. The characters actually seem more melodramatic than psychologically rounded. However, the film also uses frequent exteriors in the streets and parks of the city. These show a pre-World War II Warsaw. And there is a strong sense of place and the feel of the city life going on alongside these dramatic scenes.

The film was directed by Aleksander Hertz for the Sfinks film company. This studio was an important part of the Polish film industry of the period. The company also distributed films, including major foreign imports. These included the very successful films starring Asta Nielsen. Lukasz Biskupski, in his Catalogue notes, writes that the firm produced Polish equivalents with a central character modelled on those played by Nielsen. It appears that Pola Negri played in some of the early examples before becoming a major star in her own right. Certainly Halina Bruczówna in this film displays characteristics familiar from the Nielsen persona.

The film survived incomplete, but the restoration included reconstructions as far as the archive, Filmoteca Narodowa, was able. Certainly the ;plotting was coherent, though there did seem to be slight ‘jumps’ in places. John Sweeney provided an intense piano score that help bind the film. There was some confusion this year in the notes about film speeds on the digital transfer. Not all Archives are yet following the specifications from FIAF for frame rates on digital. This film was billed as transferred  at 17 fps: however, the onscreen titles at the beginning referred to step-printing, which I assume was how the film was transferred. In this case, with the static camera and the cuts following continuity it did not seem to make that much difference.

 

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