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Mad Love
casts: Nina Chernova, Vera Karalli, and Vitol'd Polonskii

director: Evgenii Bauer

145 minutes (PG) 1913-16
BFI DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Ian Shutter
Unknown in the West, and forgotten in his native Russia (where his 'decadent' films were suppressed by the Revolution), Evgenii Bauer (1865-1917), can be viewed in retrospect as one of the great creative pioneers of silent cinema in Eastern Europe. Coming to movies after renowned work in Russian theatre as a set designer, he is reputed to have made 80 films in a screen career of just four years, before his premature death from pneumonia, aged 52. However, only about 20 of these survived in the Gosfilmofond archives to be rediscovered after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. This interesting BFI release showcases the work of a true artist with three well-preserved short features (approx 50 minutes each) exploring Bauer's preoccupation with eroticism and tragedy.
Twilight Of A Woman's Soul (1913) is Bauer's earliest surviving film, and its dour story of a broken marriage following the rape of a nobleman's bride-to-be (Chernova) demonstrates that Bauer was sympathetic to socialist concerns, but his film work was far less politicised than that of the celebrated Eisenstein. Laura Rossi composed the new score featured here. After Death (1915) is another tale of doomed love, as lonely photographer Andrei (Polonskii) spurns romance with actress Zoia (Karalli, with eyes like a Japanese anime character!), only to find he is haunted by memories of their brief encounter when she commits suicide. Fate does not smile upon Bauer's heroes, and frequent dream sequences reveal a keen appreciation for an understanding of psychology and its dramatic visualisation. "Are you still alive? That won't do at all!" In The Dying Swan (1916), mute ballerina Gizaella (Karalli, again) becomes a private dancer for a death-obsessed painter, who has to strangle his model to find the right pose. This supernatural tale, based on a novel by Zoia Barantevich, earns its PG rating with a frightening nightmare sequence.
   Although Bauer's work is acclaimed for its distinctive lighting and deep-focus cinematography with innovative angles and a highly mobile camera, Mad Love is, overall, one for film students and silent movie buffs only.
   The DVD features original Russian intertitles and English subtitles, although some of scrolling credits appear to have been redone. Disc extras: a fascinating video essay by Yuri Tsivian, and a text biography of Bauer (used as sleeve liner notes in the video release) by critic Philip Kemp, who also provides helpful notes for each of the films.