A unique chance to see a classic of silent cinema with live music: Nana by Jean Renoir and based on the novel by Emile Zola is an acclaimed masterpiece with original music performed live by the Prima Vista quartet and devised and composed by one of its members Baudime Jam. Emmerick West reveals how the masterpiece emerged.

The film was Renoir’s second outing as a director, the first being La Fille de L’Eau (1924). It’s an extraordinary achievement that now seems to fit perfectly into the Renoir oeuvre though at the time of its release in France it was a financial and critical disaster. When it was originally reviewed on July 30, 1929, an anonymous critic was appalled by the extravagant acting by Catherine Hessling (Renoir’s first wife, who played the title role) and suggested rather prissily that the Zola novel would outlive the film. Today with hindsight illuminated by all the remarkable Renoir films that came after, seeing Nana is like discovering a long lost diary.
Though Renoir’s Nana has never been lost, the two‐hour and 40‐minute version the festival is presenting is a fully packed treasure trove compared to previous various cut‐down versions. It’s not difficult to understand why early audiences were confused and turned off by this immensely elaborate screen Incarnation of the Zola novel about the Second Empire bit actress who became the most famous courtesan of her day.
It moves from realism to expressionism to romanticism, all the while being somewhat comic and cool. Hessling, her face a white mask containing a tiny black‐bow of the mouth and magnificent, pale eyes outlined with kohl, virtually dances through the film, miming attitudes and gestures that suggest those of a haunted performer in ballet, though the actors around her remain more or less realistic.

Composer with the sound for silents Baudime Jam has dedicated much of his life as a composer to the world of silent film. A trained violist, conductor and musicologist, he studied in France and at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, USA. Having started sharing his passion for the silent music repertoire during his time as a radio producer at Radio France (1993–98), today he has given over 2,000 performances and composed over a dozen works for silent film with the Prima Vista Quartet. He is regarded as one of the world’s specialists on music for film and has taught at conservatories around the world. The Debussy Quartet, the ConTempo Quartet, the Tang Quartet or the Opus 62 Ensemble – to name but a few have performed his silent film compositions. Passion in performance The Prima Vista quartet has been enchanting audiences around the world since 1997. As well playing the classic string quartet repertoire, from Mozart to Haydn and Bartók to Shostakovich, it has also forged a special identity in the realm of music specially composed for silent film – | an art form apart – to great acclaim. A short list of some of the many prestigious venues it has played includes: the Balzac Cinema and Adyar Theatre in Paris, the Cannes Film Festival, The Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, the Barbican in London, the Odeon in Firenze, the Smolny Cathedral of Saint Petersburg, the Philharmonic Hall in Nizhni-Novgorod, the Pod Baranami Theatre in Krakow, the French House in Washington, the French Cultural Centre and the Florence Gould Hall in New York and the Beijing National Theatre.

The Festival previously collaborated with the Quartet on Études sur Paris about the City of Light in the Roaring Twenties. The acclaimed 1926 masterpiece was directed by by André Sauvage and presented at the Barbican in London.

The Quartet comprises Elzbieta Gladys (violin I) , Raphaelle Burgos (violin II) , Baudime Jam (viola) and Ladislav Szathmary (cello)  with the additional participation of Carmen Martinez Pierret at the piano.


Follow us on Twitter


fb_icon_325x325 twitterIcon RSSicon