Friday 13 July 2012

La Roue (1923)

La Roue
Some of these ancient filmmakers must have been entirely out of touch with their audiences. Or maybe they thought that because they are such great directors they can submit their viewer to anything and if they give up they are not worthy to see their glorious production anyway.

At 270 minutes La Roue is so long that I just cannot image how anybody can get through it in the cinema. I mean this is not high adrenaline action or slapstick comedy or suspense for that matter, but drama, maybe even melodrama. The sheer size of this movie becomes its most prominent feature and also its most detrimental element. Apparently this idea that it was okay to throw 3 hour + movies in the face of cinema goers was quite prevalent of the period. On the list there are many examples of this. So maybe people of the early cinema had a capacity for watching these oversize movies that we in our modern age have lost. Somehow I just do not think that was the case. My hypothesis is that the director has this entire story lined up and he wants to make it PERFECT and everything must be included. And with control of the production he gets away with it.

For La Roue I think this hypothesis is particularly good. Isolated the individual parts are really good. The characters are portrayed in detail and with less over-acting than in contemporary movies. We really understand them and feel with them. Also technically the shots are often beautifully made with interesting angles and lighting. When I saw it I patched it into small bits and it took me a week to get through. That allowed me to enjoy these details. Nevertheless the progression of the story is so slow that frequently I glanced at the timer and wondered why it was moving so slowly. Cut down to two hours this could have been an awesome movie.

The lead of the movie is Sisif, a train driver of some skill. It is no coincidence that his name resembles that of Sisyfos, the mythological character that did not have too much success rolling a stone up a mountain. Sisif really struggles in vain.

Anyway, Sisif finds a little girl, Norma, who has become an orphan in a train accident. He raises her together with his son Ellie who thinks she is his sister. Ellie makes violins and is a sensitive man who cares much for his sister. Maybe a little too much. That is something he shares with his father who also has a good eye for his adopted daughter. Sisif drinks to quench the feelings and as the movie progresses he becomes more and more miserable. Norma hasn’t got a clue. She is just waltzing around unaware of the suppressed lust of her male companions. When she gets an outside suitor problems should be over. But it just gets a lot worse…

I like the part on Mont Blanc. There is something final about the scenes here and getting away from that claustrophobic house by the tracks was a great relieve. Severin-Mars as Sisif is also at his best as the almost blind Sisif who has all but given up now. My least favorite is Norma. Besides being the more melodramatic one it also annoys me that she is so blind to the effect she has on the surroundings. Somebody needs to take a good long talk with her and the family would probably do well with some therapy. Instead they are rolling steadily to their doom.

And me, I praise myself lucky that I did not have to see it in a cinema.


  1. I admit, I think think I watched this one on fast forward. It's looooooong.

    1. That is what I should have done. Only I am too slow at reading for double speed.

  2. Gance meant this to resemble a Greek tragedy (which it is actually based on), which always seem to drag on forever--hence the run time of La Roue. Like you, I much prefer the Mount Blanc sequences.

    1. Yes, that is what it reminded me of, a Greek tragedy. I just wish he had shown more courage in the edit room. It does not need to be that long. The Mont Blanc part is where it works the best.