Monday, 15 February 2010

EL DORADO (FRANCE/1921/MARCEL L'HERBIER)

In a sleazy cabaret named El Dorado, a young single mother named Sibilla works unenthusiastically as a dancer and performer to support her ill son. Neglected by Estiria, the reluctant father of her son, Sibilla sees a perfect opportunity to endanger his high status when she learns that his débutante daughter Iliana cheating on her wealthy fiancé with Hedwick, a Swedish painter. Awaiting the lovers at their usual meeting place, she locks them away for Estiria to discover, and the lovers are forced to take shelter at the house of Hedwick’s mother. Here, they concoct a counter-proposal to Sibilla, offering to take her son with them to convalesce at the Sierra Nevada. Sibilla agrees, but upon reflection regrets her decision to give away the only important person in her life, and her inability to reconcile issues with other people lead to dangerous consequences.

El Dorado is frequently noted for its striking originality, becoming a source of inspiration for filmmakers such as Alain Resnais, and the acclaim is justified. Director Marcel L’Herbier deftly infuses drama with physical and narrative layers, and plays creatively with focus to represent the state of Sibilla’s psyche. It is clear that a lot of influences are being dealt with simultaneously here, particularly in the mise-en-scène and the camera’s selective consumption of each scene. But El Dorado is no mere child of its progenitors – though mixing nuances of several European styles, L’Herbier creates a distinctly French dramaturgy which sees later offshoots in the films of Dmitri Kirsanoff.




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