The Wellington Film Society’s program will take a break for the next couple of weeks to welcome The International Film Festival but there’s one last picture to go. Last week’s it was Fidelio: Alice’s Journey, this week we have the oldest film in the program: L’Inhumaine.
Though active into the 1970s Marcel L’Herbier is best remembered as part of the first wave of French experimental filmmakers in the 1920s. His most ambitious and perhaps greatest film, L’Inhumaine, centers on a celebrated diva whose romantic whims drive a young admirer to suicidal despair. The infamous, long-sought mega-splash of au courant cinematic futurism, and one of silent cinema’s most notorious follies, this remarkable oddball has not been available since it was first released. Like all L’Herbier, it’s essential viewing.
L’Herbier himself thought the story asinine, all the better to construct a cardboard universe teetering on the brink of amour fou, technological revolution and frenzied subjectivity. More than any other movie, it exemplifies how what was eventually labelled French Impressionist Cinema straddled the canyon between narrative film and the experimental – at times L’Inhumaine looks like a fractured Man Ray concoction extrapolated out into a dream epic. At others, it’s an Erte design given preposterous life. Today, it looks like the starting pistol for the skylarking tradition taken up by Wes Anderson (and, in several ways, chaperoned by Jack Smith, Larry Jordan and the Kuchars) and glows with the beauty of the erstwhile avant-garde.
The film is broken into three uneven acts that have very different vibes. In the final act – which begins after Claire heads to the laboratory – L’Herbier unleashes his imagination and delivers an incredible vision of the future. The accuracy of some of his predictions is quite simply astonishing.
Sourced from a brand new 4K restoration of the film undertaken by Paris-based Lobster Films and overseen by Serge Bromberg, Eirc Lange, Chrystel Bonne, Lucie Fourmont, and Colin Ruffin. The 4K scanning was performed by the Eclair Group.