Ménilmontant (1926)

SCORE: 4/5

This 38 min avant-garde silent film by French-Russian director Dimitri Kirsanoff displays early modernist techniques far ahead of its time (e.g., superimpositions, dissolves, unexpected juxtapositions). There are no intertitles, the film relying (successfully) on pure visual narration and viewer engagement. The violent opening scene is likely influenced by the murder of Kirsanoff’s father by Bolsheviks in 1919.

There is an emotional sequence where the impoverished young woman played by the striking Nadia Sibirskaïa (with her out-of-wedlock-newborn in tow, the product of a cad’s manipulation of her) is in a torturous psychological state: rapid superimpositions convey her frenzied and turbulent mind. We cling to our chair as she, holding her newborn, considers suicide (via long gazes into the river).

There is a scene where she is sitting on a park bench, hungry and cold, while an old man sits down nearby to eat his lunch. She is too proud to beg. From a sidelong glance, the man can see she is homeless and hungry, and so pushes a piece of bread and some meat towards her on the bench. She doesn’t immediately take it, but instead begins to tear up. With just these facial expressions, we see the sudden depth of her painful realization of how dire her situation is, how her dreams are utterly shattered, her pride smashed. She eventually takes the food and nods to the man in thanks. It’s one of the most emotional scenes I’ve ever seen.

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