Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Maurice Vinot

The Nativity (1910)

This early short from Louis Feuillade pre-dates his better-known crime serials and shows his sense that film can and should be wholesome and uplifting. It is one of many efforts to bring the Bible to the screen, and shows considerable production value, if not a lot of dramatic interest.

The movie begins by showing us a group of shepherds on a small set, dressed to look like a manger at night. Suddenly they awake and witness an angel, and soon a host of angels is playing trumpets to hail the arrival of the messiah. The shepherds fall on their knees to give thanks, then after the vision disappears they express their wonder and joy and set out into the night. The next scene shows Mary and Joseph and the child; interestingly their manger is behind a large stone arch, and includes a cow. We see the shepherds’ herds of sheep in the background as they arrive to worship the child. The next scene shows the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem as the three Magi arrive in a caravan with porters and camels. They approach Herod’s palace and gain admission from the soldiers on guard, while the camels squat down on the tiny set. They are shown into Herod’s throne room, where they convey the story of their vision and quest for the child. Herod sends them on their way as emissaries to represent him, but his wife and advisers seem to raise doubts in his mind. We return to the palace exterior set and see the caravan raise up and depart on its journey. Then, the Magi arrive at the cave-manger (sans camels) and kneel down before the baby Jesus, presenting him with their traditional gifts. Meanwhile, Herod and his wife are plotting on the roof terrace of their palace, and they decide upon the slaughter of the innocent, to prevent Christ’s growing up. An intertitle informs us that an angel has warned Mary and Joseph, and that they are fleeing to Egypt. We see a brief scene of their flight through the wilderness, and then their rest at the end of the journey, where they sleep against the Sphinx while their donkey grazes.

Biblical movies often have difficulty maintaining the dignity and seriousness of their subject matter while still being entertaining. Here, a lot of money (at least by the standards of 1910 production) was clearly spent on sets and costumes, but Feuillade seems to have had some difficulty with the script. He lingers on camels and sheep, and on large processions, but doesn’t show us everything we want to see. Specifically, although the plot hinges on the story of the slaughter of the innocent, no depiction of violence is shown at all. Apart from that, while we have the dramatic appearance of the angels to the shepherds, it seems like the more suspenseful vision, that of the angel warning Joseph to flee Bethlehem, would be a more powerful image. From a modern American perspective, it’s interesting that the story of Mary and Joseph taking refuge in a manger because of poverty and intolerant inn-keepers is skipped over, though this may have been typical of the French Catholic telling of the story at the time.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Renée Carl, Nadette Darson, Alice Tissot, Maurice Vinot

Run Time: 13 Min, 40 secs

I have not found this film available for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment.

Custody of the Child (1909)

Custody of the Child

Alternate Title: “La Possession de l’enfant

This is another of Louis Feuillade’s early works for Gaumont studios in France. Although this is largely similar to Progressive Era morality dramas being made in the United States, there are some interesting differences. First of all, the very act of basing a film on the premise of divorce is unusual for American pictures anytime before “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), or at least “The Parent Trap” (1961). It’s also interesting that the it is the father who is awarded custody, making the conflict of the film the natural love between a mother and child, and the harm done by divorce to this institution. The child, although well-taken-care-of, quickly becomes melancholy, and the father takes him to his maternal grandmother. She, of course, immediately turns him over to the mother, who absconds and then tries to raise the child in poverty. The father goes to the police, and we seem to be set up for a tragic of ending, but the child brings his parents together. Modern audiences may be confused by the long hair and petticoats of the male child, but this would have been typical in Europe at the time. Again, Feuillade makes good use of Paris exteriors intercut with generic, cramped stage-like sets for the play.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: Renée Carl, Christiane Mandelys, Maurice Vinot

Run Time: 11 Min, 34 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Spring (1909)


Alternate Title: “Le Printemps”

This is a more sophisticated example of Louis Feuillade’s early work than the movies I’ve reviewed recently. It seems to be more in line with his concept of cinema as an art form, and apparently took some time to create. Various images of nature are shown with women and children dressed as fairies dancing or interacting with the surroundings. As the film progresses, we note that the trees in the background change from being bare, to budded, to flourishing in flowers and leaves. Many of the shots have the camera’s aperture partly closed down, creating a small, oval-shaped or circular frame, which adds to the impact of the shots with the aperture fully opened. The whole piece seems to be a reflection on classical myth, as well as on the timelessness of the change of seasons.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: Henri Duval, Christiane Mandelys, Maurice Vinot

Run Time: 7 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Colonel’s Account (1907)


AKA: Le récit du colonel

This early short by Louis Feuillade has something of the feeling of a Méliès comedy, although without the expected special effects. A middle class dinner party is disrupted when one of its members – a retired colonel – relates one of his war stories in an overly-animated manner. As his narrative proceeds, he begins acting out the campaign, overturning the table and attacking his fellow diners. Eventually he is subdued by a “devious counter-attack,” in which the entire party pummels him with discarded food from the floor. All action takes place in a single frame, occasionally interrupted by forward-facing intertitles and no editing or camera movement at all. It’s a fairly typical film of the period, not badly done, and it did get a few laughs out of me, but there’s nothing to suggest its director’s later genius.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: Alice Tissot, Maurice Vinot, Renée Carl

Run Time: 3 Min 45 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.