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Festival Year Festival Section
2003 Mozhukhin: The Paths of Exile

Alternative Title 1
Alternative Title 2
Alternative Title 3
Country France
Release Date 1921-23
Production Co. Ermolieff-Cinéma / Films Albatros
Director Alexandre Volkoff

Format   Speed (fps)
35mm   18
Footage   Time
3260m   159'

Archive Source Cinémathèque Française
Print Notes Didascalie in francese / French intertitles.

Ivan Mosjoukine, Charles Vanel, Nicolas Koline, Hélène Darly, Francine Mussey, Wladimir Strijewsky, Simone Genevois, Bartkevich
Other Credits
sc.: Alexandre Volkoff, Ivan Mosjoukine, based on the novel by Jules Mary (1921); ph.: Joseph-Louis Mundwiller, Nicolas Toporkoff; art dir.: Alexandre Lochakoff, Edouard Gosch
Other Information
released: 15.3.1929 (feature film version)
Program Notes
La Maison du mystère is one of the handful of French silent serials to have survived and been restored both in their original episode format and their condensed feature-length version. Though serials (or "ciné-romans" or "films à episodes," as they were called locally) were a staple of the French film industry in the years during and after the Great War, producers (notably the powerful Pathé-affiliated Société des Cinéromans) were obliged to prepare feature-length versions for export and for eventual domestic re-release. Russian émigré producer Joseph Ermolieff produced three serials, all in 1921, and all adapted from "roman-feuilletons" by the phenomenally successful Jules Mary, a specialist in the genre, who penned many a famous melodrama around the theme of the miscarriage of justice - a theme that must have had special appeal for the unjustly displaced technicians and artists of Ermolieff's Moscow and Yalta studios. The first two serials, La Pocharde and La Fille sauvage, were both directed by French actor-turned-director Henri Etiévant with Franco-Russian casts, and have left a trace neither in the annals of film history nor in the archives.
Begun in the summer of 1921 by Alexandre Volkoff (with fellow studio director Viatcheslav Tourjansky providing some important and uncredited second-unit work), La Maison du mystère was interrupted for six months when Ivan Mosjoukine contracted typhoid fever. Finally completed during the summer of 1922 (under the aegis of Alexandre Kamenka and Noë Bloch, the new masters of Montreuil's Russian film colony after Ermolieff decided to move his production base to Munich), the film was not trade-screened until November 1922, and was finally released (in 10 weekly instalments) starting in March 1923.
Its success was immediate and phenomenal. Critics who had previously denounced the serial as artless, lowbrow fare were almost fulsome in their praise of the film's stylish upgrading of melodramatic clichés, sheer pictorial elegance, and narrative imagination, not to mention the utter credibility of the performances. For Mosjoukine it was the ultimate consecration after four succès d'estime, and once again served as a showcase for his multifarious talent. But the film also opened doors for Charles Vanel (who gives the "Curses! Foiled again!" school of melodramatic villainy a new lease on life) and the astonishing Nicolas Koline, a former Moscow Art Theater comedian who came to France with Nikita Balief's famous Chauve-Souris cabaret theatre before defecting to the Montreuil troupe.
The print on view here is the 1929 French re-release feature version of La Maison du mystère, lovingly restored in 1985 by Renée Lichtig. (She would only complete the painstaking reconstitution of the original serial version in 1992.) It is a reasonably skilful condensation of the film - reduced from 8800 metres to 3200 metres - which gains in rhythm what it loses in incidental detail and narrative clarity. Most of the major set pieces have been preserved (the gorgeous wedding scene staged as a Beardsley-like shadow play, in silhouette; the escape from the penal colony), though sometimes shortened (the Homeric knock-down-drag-out fight between Mosjoukine and Vanel in the cliff-top house). Mosjoukine's buffoonish courtship of Hélène Darly under a tree has been deleted, as has the hero's return as a circus clown, a dramatic interpolation to Mary's original plot that Volkoff and Mosjoukine fought hard to get accepted by author, who died before the film was completed. - Lenny Borger