With his family’s fortune squandered, the formerly carefree Mathias Pascal (Mosjoukine) is forced to take a job working in the village library. He marries the town beauty, Romilde (Pradot), but her shrewish mother makes his home life a misery. When his own beloved mother (Mellot) and infant daughter die on the same day, he escapes to Monte Carlo where he wins a fortune at the tables. Learning that his death has been erroneously reported back home, he goes to Rome to start a new life. He falls in love with Adrienne (Moran), the daughter of his landlord. But without a past or an identity, Pascal’s new freedom is illusory.
Restored by the Cinémathèque Française in 2009 and featuring a lively original score by Timothy Brock, this epic tale runs the gamut of emotions and styles to be unlike most anything you’ve ever seen. Director L’Herbier skillfully transitions the action from a grandiose home to a jumbled library, an opulent casino, and finally a bohemian boarding house. He also uses inventive camera tricks to take us inside Pascal’s thoughts, giving us silent film’s answer to the monologue. The sadly forgotten Mosjoukine is magnetic; this Russian émigré was a huge star of the ‘20s, with dashing good looks and a slightly mysterious, enigmatic quality. Adapted from the novel by Luigi Pirandello, this long unavailable classic is an absolute delight, ripe for discovery.