The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s presentation of “L’argent,” a French film from 1928 directed by Marcel L’Herbier (on Saturday, February 12, 2011 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco) provided a rare treat to all who saw it. This stunning masterpiece, made on a big budget and based on an Emile Zola novel, provided a wonderful story about the lengths people will go for their greedy pursuit of money. The film also provides a visual tour-de-force, with lavish sets, unique and compelling art direction and terrific costume design.
If you saw “Metropolis,” you’ll recognize the face of Brigitte Helm, who plays Maria in Metropolis and La Baronne Sandorf in L’argent. Helm plays the mistress of the current reigning power monger — first Saccard and then Gundermann. With her wonderfully expressive face and fluid, dancer-like movements, Helm locks you into her screentime. She also looks terrific in her wonderfully designed dresses.
The story concerns the efforts of the brutish Saccard to lift his company out of a downward spiral. An aviator’s flight to French Gianna becomes a national obsession with Saccard’s bank as the sponsor. The flight lifts the company’s shares, but Saccard’s subsequent greed and other obsessions bring his downfall. At one point, Saccard throws a party at his palatial mansion, complete with flowing champagne, a jazz band and a dance act — a scene of pure style and visual extravagance that cannot be topped. Only a year later, in 1929, the stock market crash plunged the entire world into a depression.