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Cinema Across Media: The 1920s 

Thursday, February 24, 2011
7:00 p.m. L’Inhumaine
Marcel L’Herbier (France, 1924)

Introduced by Gertrud Koch
Judith Rosenberg on Piano

Gertrud Koch is Professor of Film Studies at the Free University, Berlin

This rare French film, which was never released in the United States, brings together many elements of the Modern art movement of the twenties. Above all, it is a fascinating contribution to the cinema by Cubist artist Fernand Léger, who created the film’s exquisite set design. (Léger was working on his own film, Le Ballet mécanique, during the production of L’Inhumaine.) The Art Deco rooms were designed by the young Brazilian artist Alberto Cavalcanti, soon to be a noted filmmaker himself. Claude Autant-Lara created the winter gardens with stylized plants. The plot itself is almost “Cubist” in its tortured machinations, and certainly in its concern with love in the technological age. Within an ultramodern mansion, the celebrated concert singer Claire Lescot (Georgette Leblanc), known as “l’inhumaine” for her icy indifference, is courted by a series of admirers ranging from a Hindu prince to a political agitator. A young scientist, Einer Norsen (Jaque Catelain), who has a profound faith in the benefits of technology for mankind, is deeply in love with the singer. He devises an elaborate plot to test her humanity and bring her hard heart to life.

• Written by L’Herbier. Photographed by Georges Specht and Roche. Set design by Fernand Léger, Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Claude Autant-Lara. Ballet sequences performed by Ballets Suédois under the direction of Rolf de Maré. Costume design by Paul Poiret. With Georgette Leblanc, Jaque Catelain, Marcelle Pradot. (132 mins, Silent with French intertitles and live English translation, From CNC)