In the same vein as “something old is new again” the technical wizards at Kino Lorber have artfully remastered Carl Dreyer’s (who co-wrote the screenplay with Thea von Harbou based on Herman Bang’s novel) 1924 silent film that delves into a love triangle that may well have been unusual to be “talked” about during the roaring ‘20s.
In the title role, Walter Slezak plays the central part (of the triangle) as the comely young painter wannabe who has to settle for modelling in barely a loincloth to find his way into the extraordinary fickle art world. Known as the Master—largely due to the success of some of his Michael paintings and sketches—lonelier-than-most, Claude Zoret is obviously smitten with his alluring foster son in more ways than just depictions on canvas. In a clear homage to Thomas Mann’s groundbreaking Death in Venice (first published in 1912), Benjamin Christensen utilizes his extraordinary characterization skills (in body language and particualry “looks that speak volumes”—the sparse bits of dialogue and narrative hints, as usual being placed on the screen like a PowerPoint presentation) in this film without sound.
The fly in the ointment comes in the shapely form of Princess Zamikoff (Nora Gregor manages to tease both men, but any real heat between them seems more like a typical “beard” role—largely unheard of in popular cinema way back then). Before you can say “paint me!”, she is the subject of Zoret’s next “masterpiece”, but, alas, he can’t get the eyes right. Desperate for a good result, he offers the brush to Michael, and voilà, problem solved.
Serving as referee, confidante and journalist, Robert Garrison is ideally cast as Switt—who may or may not have used insider information to make a special name for himself within the up-and-down world of art criticism.
Keeping Zoret’s household trains running on time is the indefatigable “main man”, Jules—aptly titled Majordomus (Max Auzinger positively revels in the role, sporting a white, carefully coiffed beard that befits his ranks)
The subplot of the marital difficulties of Alice (stoically played by Grete Mosheim), adds little to the proceedings, save and except for a trip to the ballet (Swan Lake) and a duel between the suitors.
As Zoret prepares to breathe his last, two things are obvious: Michael will certainly inherit—despite causing untold hurt to the smitten artist—but will miss the “adieu”; and the lovestruck Master will go to his grave thinking, if ever so briefly, that he did have the love of his life.
The modernistic score—a wonderful chamber ensemble: especially the clarinet cello—from Pierre Oser, serves everyone well. JWR