Recently restored (in 2001) by Centrimage for ZZ Productions, Maldone is one of the great achievements of French silent cinema. It was the first genuine masterpiece from Jean Grémillon and is also a very good example of the documentary style of film from this period. It was released in October 1928 but was not a great success, bringing and end to Charles Dullin’s film production ambitions (Dullin also stars in the film as Maldone).
An extraordinary work, Maldone manages to presage so many of the dominant themes in French cinema of the following decade. The cinematography, which includes a great deal of location work, is predominantly neo-realist in style, whilst the narrative has strong elements of poetic realism. As in many of Grémillon’s later films, Maldone alternates between moments of great dramatic intensity and moments of calm, poignant reflection. On each occasion, Grémillon uses some remarkable photography to evoke a reaction in the audience and often his originality is quite breath taking. The best example of this is the swirling camera movements in the dizzying ball scene, conveying the drunken and emotional intoxication of Maldone when he realises he is in love with Zita.
The realist documentary style of much of the photography makes a strange but effective contrast with Grémillon’s almost surrealist attempts to show on screen Maldone’s inner thoughts and emotions. Denied the luxury of sound dialogue, Grémillon, like many of the great silent film directors, was compelled to develop more ingenious ways of telling a story, and Maldone shows the director at his most creative and eloquent.
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