Director: Dimitri Kirsanoff
Production: Dimitri Kirsanoff's production company; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: about 50 minutes; length: 1800 feet. Released 1924, France. Filmed in Paris.
Producer: Dimitri Kirsanoff; screenplay: Dimitri Kirsanoff; photography: Léonce Crouan (uncredited) and Dimitri Kirsanoff; editor: Dimitri Kirsanoff (uncredited).
Cast: Nadia Sibirskaia (Younger sister); Yolande Beaulieu (Elder sister); Guy Belmont (Young man); Jean Pasquier; Maurice Ronsard.
Sitney, P.A., "The Idea of Abstraction," in Film Culture (New York), no. 63/64, 1977.
Travelling (Lausanne), Summer 1979.
Brown, Geoff, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1981.
Prouty, Richard, "The Well-Furnished Interior of the Masses: Kirsanoff's Menilmontant and the Streets of Paris," in CinemaJournal (Austin), vol. 36, no. 1, Fall 1996.
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Menilmontant, the best known and the most impressive film of the Russian émigré cellist, Dimitri Kirsanoff, takes its title from the working-class district of Paris where its drama occurs. This short film is remarkable for the honesty with which it represents seduction, jealousy, and prostitution, and, even more so, for its economical and powerful use of montage to narrate a complex story completely within intertitles.
The film opens with an unexplained axe murder, brilliantly conceived in a montage of violent details. The remainder of the film describes the life of the two daughters of the murdered couple, who both fall in love with a Parisian thug; one ends up with a baby and the other becomes a prostitute. In the final moments of the film they are reconciled and return to their first job in a sweatshop, while the thug, unbeknownst to them, is murdered in an obscure brawl, the mystery and violence of which reflect the opening murders.
A series of hand-held views of Paris, together with superimpositions, simultaneously propels the story elliptically and gives us insights into the psychology of the two girls. The first such sequence marks the abrupt transition from the country to the city, and conveys in its rhythm the excitement Paris possesses for the two new arrivals. When the sister who eventually will have a baby spends her first night with her lover, another moving camera sequence, superimposed over the other sister, vividly portrays her jealousy, and her fantasy, of her sister's initiation into the excitements of the city. A gloomier version of the same dynamic camera movement is superimposed over the face of the young mother when she leaves the maternity ward, thinking (as the montage makes perfectly clear) of killing herself and her baby. The final round of this stylistic trope introduces the idea of prostitution and culminates in the meeting of the two sisters.
They had become estranged when the first one to be seduced saw, from a distance, her sister also seduced by the thug. Kirsanoff brilliantly emphasizes her shock by cutting to a series of progressively closer shots of her face, in precisely the manner that he had earlier edited the scene in which she comes upon her slaughtered parents. By reserving this figure for those two scenes alone, he urges the viewer to connect the two traumas psychologically. The entire film is constructed around an elaborate network of such cinematic figures, making it one of the most interesting psychological narratives of its period.
—P. Adams Sitney