Monday, September 25, 2023

Abel Gance's LA ROUE At NYFF 2023

This is the post I published at IMDB in 2008

Abel Gance's monstrously long tale of a train engineer. his son and the girl he takes in and raises as his own. Clocking in at four and a half hours this is still only a fraction of the the three part close to eight hour version that Gance originally created. I won't go into the story of the three years of filming and the tragedies that struck during the filming of the movie, which would make a wonderful film unto itself.

The story begins when Sisif returns to work one day just as a train wrecks in the yard. He pulls a young girl, Norma, from the wreckage and adopts her as his own, bringing her home to live with him and his son. The children are small enough that they simply assume that they are brother and sister. Later as time goes on the children grow, but the family remains in poverty thanks in part to Sisif's drinking and gambling. He is secretly in love with his "daughter" as his his son who makes a living making violins. Also in love with Norma is a well placed engineer who is helping to keep Sisif safe and out of trouble so that he might wed her. As the wheel of life turns and crushes those in its way the lives of everyone take unexpected and not very happy turns.

I'm at sixes and sevens about the film. Certainly its dated badly in some regards. the actor playing Sisif often looks into the camera and plays directly to the audience in a style thats at best over done. Some sequences are clearly unreal. Many interiors were filmed outside since you can see the shifting sun lighting them. And the film is simply put way way way too long at four and a half hours (I can not imagine what the full cut was like).

And yet the film has power at times that is undeniable. The film has a sense of place that can not be matched. Its clear that this was filmed in and around the train yards where it all takes place. The sense of reality is probably is almost unmatched in any film. The photography and montage is among the finest I've ever seen. There are shots of trains running on the rails that need to be hung on walls. Additionally the way the film is cut together is unlike any other film. No one manages to cut like this, I can't imagine what this was like in 1923. The images in images (The scenes of Norma in the train smoke for example) are haunting- more so when you think of how Gance had to put together pretty much in camera. From a technical stand point the quote about the film that's in the publicity for the DVD restoration about how the movie changed after this film is probably dead on. Technically this is like watching lightning. The story is, while melodramatic and potboiler like, affecting and had the film not dragged on as long as it did I would have probably loved the film instead of liked it.

Is it worth seeing? If you're a cinema nut absolutely. Its amazing at times. If you're not a fan of film and really don't like silent film stay away from it because it will probably overwhelm you in the wrong way.

Between 6 and 7 out of 10- with moments that are off the scale.

No comments:

Post a Comment