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Festival Year Festival Section
2003 Mozhukhin: The Paths of Exile

Alternative Title 2
Alternative Title 3
Country France
Release Date 1920
Production Co. Ermolieff-Cinéma
Director Jacob Protazanov

Format   Speed (fps)
35mm   18
Footage   Time
1673m   82'

Archive Source Cinémathèque Française
Print Notes Didascalie in francese e inglese / French and English intertitles.

Ivan Mosjoukine, Nathalie Lissenko, Valentine Dark, Alexandre Colas, Rivory, Edouard Hardoux
Other Credits
sc.: Ivan Mosjoukine & Jacob Protazanov; ph.:Paul Guichard [+ Nicolas Toporkov & Fedote Bourgassoff?]; art dir.: Alexandre Lochakoff
Other Information
released: 19.11.1920.
Program Notes
Legend (with Jean Mitry as its midwife) has it that L'Angoissante aventure, the first real Russian émigré production in France, was made in unusual peripatetic circumstances that gives its title a double significance. As Mitry describes it in his 1969 monograph on Mosjoukine: "Held up in Turkey for several weeks [during their flight from the Crimea to France via Constantinople], Mosjoukine, Protazanov, and Volkov came up with a suitable story idea based on a evening out at the circus. They shot part of it in Stamboul at this same circus, another on board a passenger cargo ship taking them to France. The stopovers in Athens and Marseilles were used as backdrops for other sequences improvised on a day-to-day basis. Completed in Paris, the film, directed by Protazanov (with Mosjoukine, Lissenko, Vera Orlova, Rimsky, Koline, and Volkov [sic]), was released in October 1919 [sic] as L'Angoissante aventure..."
Unfortunately, a viewing of L'Angoissante aventure hardly bears out this production backstory. Although there are, indeed, a few shots of Mosjoukine and Lissenko in Constantinople (possibly made for another, uncompleted, film or simply as a sort of home-movie souvenir of their stay), the entire story is set in France, mostly in and around Marseilles (where Ermolieff's troupe did disembark in the spring of 1920) and at Pathé's disaffected studio in Montreuil-sous-Bois. Moreover, Mitry gets the cast wrong - apart from Mosjoukine and Lissenko (and probably the pseudonymous "Valentine Dark"), the supporting cast is of pure Gallic stock. Worse, Mitry (obviously writing from memory) gets most of the plot details wrong, though there is indeed a late but pivotal circus scene (clearly studio-shot, however). Mosjoukine does not play a "happily married man who falls in love with a circus tightrope-walker", but a young French bachelor of aristocratic stock who runs away from his family in the company of a music hall dancer, only to be disowned by his outraged father.
A minor effort in the vein of the films Ermolieff had been turning out back home in Russia and Yalta, L'Angoissante aventure shows Protazanov in an intermittently whimsical mood. There are some charmingly composed scenes and pictorial playfulness (the opening garden party where the available young male and female guests face off along a curving balustrade; the visual gag with a mirror on a hotel balcony overlooking the Place de la Concorde). But overall this is not Protazanov at his imaginative best. He would quickly direct four other films in France - including one last collaboration with Mosjoukine - before going home to Soviet Russia via Germany.
For Mosjoukine, the film was important essentially as a calling card for a new audience, one which had virtually never heard of him. During the summer of 1920, four pre-emigration Russian films had been released in France, as if to prepare French filmgoers for the imminent invasion (though, strangely, they were distributed by Gaumont, the chief rival to Ermolieff's industry host, Pathé!). Two of the titles were Mosjoukine vehicles, notably Pikovaya Dama (The Queen of Spades; 1916) - an English poster of which can be glimpsed in one of the movie-studio scenes in L'Angoissante aventure! Though critics were impressed by these films' technical and narrative prowess, many were repelled by their morbid subject matter. No doubt, these criticisms did not go unnoticed by Ermolieff, Protazanov, and Mosjoukine, who tacked on a happy end to their increasingly dark tale in the form of that most hoary of dramatic cop-outs - the "It was all a dream!" stunt.
Writing retroactively in 1927, in his monograph on Mosjoukine, journalist Jean Arroy summed up the importance of the film: "Did you see that strange cinematic romance entitled "L'Angoissante aventure"? It was a real whiplash of nervous expression that knocked us dull Latins out of our jaded senses. Mosjoukine was by turns merry, charming, tender, sarcastic, pathetic, dramatic, horror-struck, brutal, despairing. A superb rainbow of emotion!" - Lenny Borger