Railroad engineer Sisif (Séverin-Mars) rescues an English baby orphaned in a train wreck and decides to adopt her as a companion for his slightly older son Elie (Gabriel de Gravone). Years later, both father and son have fallen in love with Norma (Close), though she has been promised to another man. When Elie dies in a fight with the other suitor, Sisif is inconsolable, blaming Norma for the loss of his only son. But as time passes, their relationship takes an unexpectedly intimate turn.
A mournful melodrama about conflicted love and the pain of loss, Gance’s “La Roue” emerged out of two momentous events in the fabled French director’s life: the sudden loss of his wife, and a fateful meeting with D.W. Griffith, who taught Gance the principles of montage editing. Shot on location in Nice and in the Alps, “La Roue” is infused with melancholic human feeling as it tracks Norma and Sisif’s cathartic life journey. But the dynamic technical innovation on display here is the source of this film’s timeless, breath-stealing magic. “Roue” the day!