The Inhuman Woman

 (Marcel L' Herbier, France, 1924) 122 minutes


Director: Marcel L'Herbier
Screenplay: Pierre MacOrlan,
  Marcel L'Herbier, Georgette Leblanc
Cinematography: Roche Georges Specht
Art Direction: Claude Autant-Lara,
  Alberto Cavalcanti
Georgette Leblanc (Claire Lescot)
Jaque Catelain (Einar Norsen)
Leonid Walter de Malte (Wladimir Kranine)
Philippe Hériat (Djorah de Nopur)
Fred Kellerman (Frank Mahler)
Marcelle Pradot (The simpleton)

Reviews and notes

2016 Maryland

Though active into the 1970s Marcel L'Herbier is best remembered as part of the first wave of French experimental filmmakers in the 1920s. His most ambitious and perhaps greatest film, L'Inhumaine, centers on a celebrated diva whose romantic whims drive a young admirer to suicidal despair. A platform for opera star Georgette Leblanc and for the cinema-specific techniques championed by L'Herbier and his fellow cineastes, L'Inhumaine is most of all a showcase for '20s French modernism. The spectacular set design, costuming, and mise en scène were created by a who's who of artists and designers, including Robert Mallet-Stevens, Fernand Léger, René Lalique, Paul Poiret, and soon-to-be directors Alberto Cavalcanti and Claude Autant-Lara. These bizarrely artificial elements frame a melodrama that shifts into a quasi science-fiction paean to technology and humanity.
- Patrick Friel, Film Comment, May/June 2016.

The infamous, long-sought mega-splash of au courant cinematic futurism, and one of silent cinema's most notorious follies, this remarkable oddball has not been available since it was first released. Like all L'Herbier, it's essential viewing; the filmmaker was second only to Gance in his appetite for visual extremities and avant-garde style ideas.

He went one toke over the line with this fantasia, in which an unlikely uber-femme (matronly opera chanteuse Georgette Leblanc, ex-muse to Maurice Maeterlinck) drives men mad, spurs suicides and inspires secret resurrection plots (using proto-television and 'magical science'), all of it on absurd meta-modem cut-out sets designed by Fernand Leger and Claude Autant-Lara.

L'Herbier himself thought the story asinine, all the better to construct a cardboard universe teetering on the brink of amour fou, technological revolution and frenzied subjectivity. More than any other movie, it exemplifies how what was eventually labelled French Impressionist Cinema straddled the canyon between narrative film and the experimental - at times L'Inhumaine looks like a fractured Man Ray concoction extrapolated out into a dream epic. At others, it's an Erte design given preposterous life. Today, it looks like the starting pistol for the skylarking tradition taken up by Wes Anderson (and, in several ways, chaperoned by Jack Smith, Larry Jordan and the Kuchars) and glows with the beauty of the erstwhile avant-garde.
- Michael Atkinson, Sight and Sound, April 2016.

This early silent film from the great French director Marcel L'Herbier easily matches the audacity and brilliance of Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and even Fritz Lang's iconic Metropolis. It has a different identity, but the type of ideas it tackles and the manner in which its narrative evolves are hugely impressive.

The film is broken into three uneven acts that have very different vibes. In the final act - which begins after Claire heads to the laboratory - L'Herbier unleashes his imagination and delivers an incredible vision of the future. The accuracy of some of his predictions is quite simply astonishing.

The sets and decors that are seen throughout the film are enormously stylish, but perhaps this should not be too surprising considering the talent that contributed to the film. The great Claude Autant-Lara (Love is My Profession, Le rouge et le noir) and Alberto Cavalcanti (Went the Day Well?), for instance, worked closely with architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and painter Fernand Leger. The mass sequence where Claire is snubbed attracted the likes of Rene Clair (I Married a Witch) and Raymond Guerin (Nana). There are sculptures that were created by the famous Hungarian avant-garde artist Joseph Csaky, while the spectacular furniture was built by such renowned designers as Pierre Chareau and Michel Dufet.
- Dr. Svet Atanasov, Blu-ray.com, 9 March 2016.

Sourced from a brand new 4K restoration of the film undertaken by Paris-based Lobster Films and overseen by Serge Bromberg, Eirc Lange, Chrystel Bonne, Lucie Fourmont, and Colin Ruffin. The 4K scanning was performed by the Eclair Group.

It is extremely easy to tell that the professionals who worked on the 4K restoration knew exactly what they were doing. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the film now looks quite spectacular. There are segments where depth does fluctuate because time has clearly left its mark, but overall image balance and fluidity are as good as one would expect them to be. A lot of the darker footage, in particular, looks wonderfully balanced and crisp. According to information supplied by the producers, the last tinted copy of the film was destroyed in a fire at La Cinematheque francaise, but the original colors for the tints, as envisioned by Marcel L'Herbier, were digitally restored after sample frames with negative elements were discovered at the French Film Archive. The reproduction of these colors is excellent. There are absolutely no traces of problematic degraining or sharpening adjustments. Damage and other purely age-related limitations have been addressed as best as possible and as a result the film looks exceptionally healthy.
- adapted from Dr. Svet Atanasov, Blu-ray.com, 9 March 2016.

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