Wednesday, May 06, 2015

SFIFF58: Monte-Cristo

On Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco International Film Festival held their Mel Novikoff Award event, this year featuring Lenny Borger presenting the 1929 silent epic Monte-Cristo. The festival publicity calls Mr. Borger a writer, translator & film sleuth, & he is apparently the go-to man when you need English subtitles for French films. Scott Foundas, Chief Film Critic at Variety, interviewed Mr. Borger onstage, focusing on his translation work. We learned that Mr. Borger taught himself French by translating the songs of Jaques Brel & that the hardest things to translate are slang, especially in film noir.

Though he lives in Paris, Mr. Borger still sounds like he's from Brooklyn, & he was a charmingly old school raconteur. He told anecdotes about hilariously inaccurate subtitles & was frank about his experiences working with Godard, whom he thinks "contemptuous of the public." He also gave us background on the restoration of Monte-Cristo, which he worked on. The film & its director, Henri Fescourt, currently have no reputation, even in France. Fescourt was a director of popular serials, including a 6-hour version of Les Misérables.

We then saw Monte-Cristo, an opulent adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, running over 3 1/2 hours. I enjoyed the movie's suspenseful storytelling, rich settings & visual style. Every shot was a composed picture, with the characters arrayed purposefully in the space. The acting is relatively free of oversized silent movie gestures. The shots of real clipper ships are spectacular, & the crowd scenes have a bustling realism. There's a wonderful scene at the opera where the camera pans across a row of boxes whose occupants are more interested in the audience than the show.

The film ran with a recorded orchestral soundtrack by Marc-Olivier Dupin. His sensuous symphonic score gave the film an exotic atmosphere, & the use of viola & double bass solos was distinctive. The intertitles are all in French, so Mr. Borger did a live translation, though the soundtrack's orchestra sometimes drowned him out. There was one intermission, & altogether the event lasted just under 5 hours. This was less well attended than other festival screenings I've been to. I had empty seats on both sides of me in the balcony.

§ Monte-Cristo
Director: Henri Fescourt
1929, France, 218 mins.

Restoration: 2006

§ Mel Novikoff Award: Lenny Borger: Monte-Cristo
May 3, 2015   1:00 p.m.   Sundance Kabuki Cinemas


Michael Strickland said...

I envy you the experience. I read the unabridged "Count of Monte Cristo" over the course of a month, decades ago, when recovering from a broken heart and it was one of the most satisfying reading experiences of my life. Injustice, love, drugs, sex, revenge, a documentary look at the Mediterranean and Paris at the height of its 19th century centrality, it's all there. Fun stuff.

Axel Feldheim said...

Well, I'm impressed that you've read all of the Count of Monte Cristo. I looked for a copy to read in preparation for seeing the movie, but immediately balked when I saw how long it is! I guess I'll have to wait for my next heartbreak to pick it up.

The only thing that could have improved this experience was a live orchestra at the Castro Theater.