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Festival Year Festival Section
2014 The Canon Revisited – 6

Alternative Title 1 Il giglio delle tenebre
Alternative Title 2 The Love of Jeanne Ney
Alternative Title 3
Country Germany
Release Date 1927
Production Co. Universum-Film AG [Ufa]
Director Georg Wilhelm Pabst

Format   Speed (fps)
35mm   22
Footage   Time
2270 m.   90'29"

Archive Source Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung, Wiesbaden
Print Notes did./titles: ENG

Edith Jéhanne (Jeanne Ney), Uno Henning (Andreas Labov), Fritz Rasp (Chalybiew), Brigitte Helm (Gabrielle Ney), Hertha von Walther (Margot), Adolf Edgar Licho (Raymond Ney), Vladimir Sokoloff (Zacharkiewitsch);
Other Credits
scen: Rudolf Leonhardt, Ladislaus Vajda, Ilya Ehrenburg, dal romanzo di/from the novel by Ilya Ehrenburg (1924); f./ph: Walter Robert Lach, Fritz Arno Wagner; scg./des.: Otto Hunte, Victor Trivas; aiuto regia/asst. dir: Mark Sorkin
Other Information
Program Notes
The Love of Jeanne Ney, which premiered in Berlin on 6 December 1927, was the first cinematic translation of a work by Ilya Ehrenburg, a prolific and cosmopolitan writer and journalist with a keen interest in cinema, who was born in Ukraine, wrote in Russian, and had belonged to European bohemia since before World War I. In 1921, after several years spent in Soviet Russia, Ehrenburg re-entered Western Europe; based in Paris, he provided an important link between the emerging Soviet culture and the culture of the West, a relationship which fluctuated between hostility, curiosity, and sympathy towards the Soviet experiment.
A 1924 novel of intrigue and romance unfolding against the background of post-Bolshevik-revolution Europe, The Love of Jeanne Ney dealt with certain contemporary political issues in an entertaining and dynamic manner eminently suitable for cinema. In the Spring of 1924, Ehrenburg transformed his novel into a screenplay, which attracted the attention of Soviet studios. In April 1927, Georgia’s Goskinprom Studios announced that Ehrenburg’s script was to be brought to the screen by the veteran filmmaker Ivan Perestiani. However, Goskinprom was outstripped by a formidable German rival, Ufa, which decided to produce its own version of the novel amid the enthusiastic German interest in Soviet themes and Soviet cinematic forms resulting from the success of the films of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, and, more broadly, by what Ehrenburg called “the exotic lure of the Russian revolution.”
The Love of Jeanne Ney was shot at the Ufa studios in Neubabelsberg (soon after the nearly bankrupt Ufa was purchased – and beefed up – by the financier Alfred Hugenberg) and on location in Paris under the direction of Georg Wilhelm Pabst, a filmmaker with often radical political views, who had already attracted considerable attention with the social problem melodrama The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse, 1925) and the psychoanalytical experiment Secrets of a Soul (Geheimnisse einer Seele, 1926).
Pabst invited Ehrenburg to Berlin to supervise the shooting of the film, not least because the director could verify the authenticity of the film’s Russian episodes. Another important contributor to this verification was the assistant director Mark Sorkin, who hailed from Vilnius in the Russian Empire, and had been closely working with Pabst since 1924. Besides the expertise of Ehrenburg and Sorkin, Pabst consulted the Soviet embassy, and engaged the services of Berlin’s Russian émigré community: the film’s impressive White Russian orgy featured dozens of very real White Russians.
Although initially Ehrenburg welcomed Ufa’s initiative and accepted Pabst’s participation (he liked The Joyless Street, and felt that “as an Austrian, Pabst had never been fascinated with the expressionistic piling-up of horrors”), eventually the writer became vocally dissatisfied with Ufa’s treatment of his novel, feeling that its political topicality and tragic intonations were diluted by an exaggerated melodramatic plot and the imposition of a happy ending.
In spite of Ehrenburg’s authorial complaints, The Love of Jeanne Ney provides a profoundly filmic experience: it is simultaneously dreamy and realistic, sometimes grotesque and filled with convincing details (such as the Crimea telephone directory distinctly seen in one of the film’s opening scenes), exemplifying a narrative and tonal lucidity which is exceedingly difficult to find in cinematic works of the period.
Paul Rotha claimed that for Jeanne Ney Pabst was asked by the producers to imitate “the American style”. Siegfried Kracauer notes that Pabst’s film “conceals rather than stresses its cuts”, allowing one to compare its editing style – devised by Pabst and Sorkin – to the best examples of American cinematic storytelling. At the same time, the visual style of Jeanne Ney includes not-so-obvious but elaborate “montage phrases” which exceed the goals of “invisible” editing, as well as liberating flashes of camera mobility.
To add credibility and significance to the narrative of Jeanne Ney, Pabst placed it within a world of objects which, in Kracauer’s words, “take on a life of their own”: as brief socio-political commentaries (an orgiastic Brueghelian barrel and the Russian imperial crown superseded by a portrait of Lenin as markers of a vanishing social order), or as unexpected or expected generalizing symbols (a cigarette holder as a signifier for lasciviousness, flowers for innocence, and a diamond for avarice).
The often oppressive materiality of objects is juxtaposed in Jeanne Ney with the ethereal freshness of Parisian locations, such as the steep and relatively unfrequented Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and the vigorous morning market of Les Halles. In a similar way, the villainy of the schemer played by Fritz Rasp is juxtaposed with the romantic sentimentality of the two main characters played by Edith Jéhanne and Uno Henning (although this sentimentality is momentarily shattered by the crying eyes of an unhappy bride observed by the two lovers from the window of a drab Montparnasse hotel) and the almost abstract innocence of Jeanne’s cousin, played by Brigitte Helm.
As The Love of Jeanne Ney shares this year’s “Canon Revisited” program with Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Storm over Asia, one is tempted to make a comparison between the two films, made at approximately the same historical moment, when the ties between the German and the Soviet cinemas were lively and productive. Both films demonstrate a striving for a profoundly narrative cinema which goes beyond mainstream techniques and expands the scope of intended meanings and sentiments. – SERGEI KAPTEREV