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also known as The Inhuman Woman

L'inhumaine1924

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  • 4.0
Released to intense controversy in 1924 for its cinematic and technical innovations, L'INHUMAINE is a visual tour-de-force, a fantastical, science-fiction melodrama and a momentous collaboration of legendary figures from the avant-garde movement. Directed by Marcel L'Herbier and starring the famous French opera singer Georgette Leblanc (who helped produce the film along with L'Herbier's company, Cinegraphic) L'INHUMAINE is most notable for the style of filmmaking. In L'Herbier's words, it represents a "miscellany of modern art," bringing together some of the greatest artists from the time period, including painter Fernand Leger, architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, glassmaker Rene Lalique, fashion designer Paul Poiret and directors Alberto Cavalcanti and Claude Autant-Lara, among others, to create a collaborative cinematic experience. Leblanc plays the "Inhuman Woman" of the title, Claire Lescot, who lives on the outskirts of Paris, where she draws important men to her like moths to a flame. At her luxurious parties, she basks in the amorous attentions of her many admirers while always remaining aloof. When it appears she is the reason for a young devotee's suicide, however, her fans desert her. The filming of the concert where she's raucously booed is a renowned piece of cinema history: L'Herbier invited more than 2,000 people from the arts and fashionable society to attend the Theatre des Champs-Elysees and play the part of the unruly audience. Among the attendees were Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Erik Satie, Rene Clair, James Joyce and Ezra Pound (although none are actually visible). For this brand-new restoration, Lobster Films [with the support of Marie-Ange L'Herbier (the director's daughter), the French CNC, SACEM and Maison Hermes] utilized the original nitrate negative, scanned at a pristine 4K resolution and restored the original tints for the first time since the film's release.

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Member Reviews (4)

Titled "L'inhumaine" because apparently "Cherchez la Femme" would've been too subtle (yeah, that's a French literary criticism joke for you; trust me, it's funny).

The central melodrama is hoary, even for silent films of the era, but goddamn is the production design Something Other Than Else. Even the title cards are crafted out of beautiful art-deco fonts. Each set was conceived by a different, at the time up-and-coming designer, which gives each new phase of the story an original and compelling look. There's a dinner party with the table set in the middle of an interior lake, replete with live ducks and creepy doll-mask-faced servants. The laboratory seen in the film's back half looks like it could have been designed by Alexander Calder (it wasn't; Fernand Léger gets the gold medal here).

And the editing -- the more silent films I watch, the more I'm struck by how little has changed in terms of the visual grammar of film making, even a century out. The intense cross-cutting that closes out the first act and the spectacular montage of Stuff Happening in the final sequence would be right in place during a Marvel movie.

The only downside here is the absence of Darius Milhaud's original score, now lost in the mists of time. Aidje Tafial's modern replacement is effective, but grates thanks to the clearly-synthesized quality of the orchestral performance. Considering that Milhaud's "Concerto for Percussion" was said to have been adapted from his score to the film's climax, you wish they would have at least retained that much for the purists.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

Interesting film. Unfortunately, the melodrama restricts its possibilities. Sets are fascinating--a mix of Art Deco, Constructivist & Expressionist. I love her servants--they could be a movie in themselves. Not sure I'd watch it again, but definitely glad I did watch it. The final scenes are equal to similar scenes in Metropolis & James Whale's Frankenstein.

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top reviewer

Full of wildly imaginative eye candy of Art Deco/Cubist sets and costumes beautifully shot with tinted and distorting filters. The absurd, dream-like sci-fi/fantasy story of a Parisienne femme fatale diva and her jealous suitors is decorated with a mad scientist laboratory, jugglers and fire-eaters, a suicide and murder by asp. Guy Maddin fans should definitely check this out. Loved it!

A half-hour story stretched into a full two hours. The characters are forever glowering at the audience, and the intercutting suspense scenes are opera-long. But I LOVED every second of it.