Feu Mathias Pascal

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(The Late Matthew Pascal)

France, 1925

Director: Marcel L'Herbier

Production: Cinégraphic Albatross/Films L'Herbier; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: English version is 192 minutes; length: 4617 feet. Filmed in Paris.

Producer: Alexandre Kamenka; screenplay: Marcel L'Herbier, from the novel Il fu Mattia Pascal by Luigi Pirandello; photography: René Guichard, Jean Letort, Bourgassof, and Berliet; art directors: Alberto Cavalcanti and Lazare Meerson.

Cast: Ivan Mosjoukine (Mathias Pascal); Marthe Belot (Maria Pascal, Mathias's mother); Pauline Carton (Scolastique Pascal, Mathias's aunt); Michel Simon (Jérôme Pomino); Marcelle Pradot (Romilde Pescatore); M. Barsac (Mariana Dondi Pescatore); Isaure Douvane (Batta Maldagna); Georges Terof (Gambler); Lois Moran (Adrienne Paleari); Philippe Hériat (Anselmo Paleari); Irma Perrot (Saldia Caporale); Jean Hervé (Térence Papiano); Pierre Batcheff (Scipion Papiano).



Arroy, Jean, Ivan Mosjoukine, Paris, 1927.

Jaque-Catelain présente Marcel L'Herbier, Paris, 1950.

Klaue, Wolfgang, and others, Cavalcanti, Berlin, 1952.

Sadoul, Georges, French Film, London, 1953.

Armes, Roy, French Film, New York, 1970.

Burch, Noël, Marcel L'Herbier, Paris, 1973.

Barsacq, Leon, Caligari's Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions: A History of Film Design, New York, 1976.

Brossard, Jean-Pierre, editor, Marcel L'Herbier et son temps, La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1980.

Canosa, Michele, Marcel L'Herbier, Parma, 1985.


Theatre Arts (New York), April 1927.

O'Leary, Liam, "Ivan Mosjoukine," in Silent Picture (London), Summer 1969.

Blumer, R. H., "The Camera as Snowball: France 1918–1927," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Spring 1970.

Burch, Noël, "Marcel L'Herbier," in Cinema d'Aujourd'hui (Paris), 1973.

Ecran (Paris), January 1976.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1976.

"L'Herbier Issue," of Avant Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 June 1978.

Fieschi, J., in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1979.

Milani, R., "Il cinema di Marcel L'Herbier: le forme evanescenti della realta," in Filmcritica (Siena), vol. 37, no. 364, May 1986.

"Marcel L'Herbier," in Film Dope (Nottingham), no. 35, Septem-ber 1986.

Review, in Variety (New York), 2 May 1990.

* * *

Marcel L'Herbier's Feu Mathias Pascal is a key work of French cinema of the 1920s, valuable both for its intrinsic merits and its representative qualities. It was a period of some uncertainty in the French film industry, but the very lack of any organized studio structure on the lines similar to those which had emerged in Hollywood offered filmmakers a rare degree of freedom. This freedom was exploited to the full by filmmakers such as L'Herbier, Abel Gance and Jean Epstein, all of whom produced highly personal works the experimental and innovative visual style of which continues to astonish even today.

Feu Mathias Pascal was made in conditions that the director has described as completely ideal, produced by his own Cinégraphic company in collaboration with the Société Albatros, founded three years before by the Russian émigré producer, Alexandre Kamenka. The highly talented group around Kamenka had considerable influence on the work of French-born filmmakers, and for this film L'Herbier had the advantage of the collaboration of two of the most gifted of the exiles: his star, the great silent actor Ivan Mosjoukine, and his designer, Lazare Meerson, who had arrived in Paris just one year before and was to have a crucial shaping impact on the development of French cinema over the next dozen years through his work with Clair and Feyder. The choice of subject matter points to the literary origins of filmmakers of this generation. Like Gance and Clair, L'Herbier had envisaged a career as a writer before turning to the cinema under the influence of the American films which began to be widely shown in France after World War I. Feu Mathias Pascal was the first work by Luigi Pirandello to be adapted for the screen, and it is clear from later accounts that the author's literary prestige was one of the motivating impulses behind L'Herbier's decision to undertake a production which was never likely to be more than a succès d'estime.

In terms of L'Herbier's own artistic development, Feu Mathias Pascal is remarkable for its unity and balance. The director was attracted by the challenge of creating a complex narrative structure, and for once the story is not simply a pretext for that play with the whole panoply of visual effects—superimpositions, masking, dream sequences and so on—so beloved of French filmmakers of the period. L'Herbier has not pushed his film towards psychological realism, however; he was evidently fascinated, rather, by the fantastic aspects of his picaresque hero's adventures. Mosjoukine's masterly performance and magnetic personality hold the film together, and the shifts and changes of Mathias's life offer full scope for the actor's virtuoso talents. In other ways—in the mixture of studio work and location shooting and the resultant combination of play with shadows and at times almost documentary-style realism—the film shows characteristic eclecticism of the kind which had reached its extreme point in L'Herbier's previous film, L'inhumaine.

The qualities of the story and performance made Feu Mathias Pascal one of L'Herbier's most accessible works and gave it its high reputation among traditional historians. Ironically it is precisely these factors that have to some extent worked against the film in current critical evaluations. The pioneering studies by Noël Burch, which have done so much to re-establish the director's status as a major silent film maker, prize L'Herbier's work for the alternative he offers, in a film like L'argent, to the dominant codes of Hollywood cinema, while Feu Mathias Pascal is in this sense one of the director's more conventional pieces of film narrative.

—Roy Armes