by Angeliska on July 26, 2010
Quite a while back, I happened across a very special film called Ménilmontant.
I wish I could remember now how I first heard of it – I think I recall someone whose
opinion I respect enormously (perhaps it was Joseph Cornell) refer to it as “the most
beautiful film ever made”. Or maybe I’m making that up. Either way, it is one of the
most beautiful films ever made, and the only film I’ve ever been inspired to attempt
to grab stills from. The process of nabbing screenshots seems to be a giant hassle,
or maybe I’m just doing it wrong! I managed to get these, though – only to forget
about them until I recently came across another collection of stills in one of my
favorite sources for inspiration: one of Livejournal’s very best Film Still Communities,
Nostalgia Party No. 2 – a veritable treasure trove, and the source of the majority of
transfixing images that cycle through when my computer goes idle. Beware, it is
addicting, and you are sure to end up with a fat folder of beautiful images from
films you adore, or have never even heard of. The lady who posted the stills,
Miss Sleep Sleeper, makes lovely collages, and has created some very nice
compilations of summer and morning music that I’ve been enjoying.
I love that she and I captured many of the same moments, and she
managed to get quite a few I didn’t have the patience to try for. Go
take a look at her collection – they’re really wonderful. The film
itself is such a jewel. It’s silent, but with no intertitles. It’s all nuance
and emotion, presented in the perfect faces of its beautiful stars,
Nadia Sibirskaïa and Guy Belmont. Miss Sibirskaïa is one of the
loveliest and most mysterious of silent film actresses. Her face
is a wonder. The director, Dimitri Kirsanoff, married her – and
perhaps it was he that encouraged her change of identity, as
she had been born Jeanne Brunet in Redon in 1901. I haven’t
been able to discover anything much about her, unfortunately.
The only thing I can figure is that the French bohemians were
Russophiles in the 1920′s, just as the Russian aristocracy were
Francophiles in the 1700′s. Funny how things reverse themselves!
I won’t go into any spoilers regarding the plot,
but there’s a great breakdown here, if you like.
Miss Gala Darling mistook this picture for our dear Mlle. Meredith Yayanos at first,
and I can definitely see it, though Sibirskaïa also makes me think of Miss Violetta
at times, and in the scenes where she’s playing her child-self, with her long curls down –
she reminds me so much of Pandora. Yes, many of my favorite people have a marked
resemblance to silent film stars! Giant eyes, bowed lips and extraordinary features.
Back in October, I was very lucky to catch a rare concert from Miss Hope Sandoval,
(formerly of Mazzy Star) with my darling Chadling (Mon Petit Fantome!) we held hands
and shivered with joy, listening to her gorgeous voice and her tiny frame half obscured by
mysterious projections. Imagine my delight, when at one point I glimpsed Nadia’s face up there!
What a fox. He’s so handsome here, but kind of odd looking later, without his hat.
At this angle, I am reminded so much of the cover of a David Bowie record I used to have –
the single for “John, I’m Only Dancing”. Can you see it too? I wish men still looked like that.
Mlle. Verhext went to Paris recently, and has been enchanting me
with her marvelous recountings of Parisian adventures (and amazing
parcels filled with fancy French treasure, mon dieu!) Go see, and see
if you get filled with an intense longing to go back to France – I know
I did! – Paris Walk No. 3: Left Bank and more…
Oh, and – the film’s name comes from its setting – a neighbourhood of Paris,
situated in the city’s 20th arrondissement. It is affectionately known as “Ménilmuche”!
The name is said to derive from Mesnil Mautemps, meaning “bad weather house”.
The entire film is on YouTube, but I suggest renting it, if you can find it.
Charles Trenet, singing “Ménilmontant”