A young cigarette vendor (Yuliya Solntseva) meets an American businessman in the Mosselprom district of Moscow. An office clerk (Igor Ilinskii) is smitten with the cigarette girl, buying a pack a day from her although he doesn’t smoke. A motion picture troupe comes to shoot on location on the cigarette girl’s street. Latugin the cameraman (N.M. Tseretelli, the engineer of Aelita) becomes fixated upon her, convincing his studio to add the cigarette girl to the cast.
The American businessman, Oliver MacBright (M. Tsibulskii), visits the studio and expresses a desire to invest in a motion picture production. The film director has Latugin removed from his production unit and assigned to the shooting of MacBright’s film on life in Moscow. When the documentary is screened for MacBright and the studio executives, it is a love poem not to Moscow but to the cigarette girl. When footage of Zina and Latugin kissing together is revealed, they are discharged.
The clerk is soon employed as MacBright’s secretary and discovers a letter from Zina offering to become a kept woman. Latugin ekes a living from being a street photographer. All the while, MacBright and Zina are brashly spend money on frivolities. The clerk and Latugin orbit around Zina, only to be rebuked by her for their constant intrusions into her life. MacBright proposes (through the misinterpreting clerk) and Zina flatly turns him down.
The film is a circle of life story with the apparent moral being that there is nothing but heartache in chasing your dreams — instead, be happy with what life has given you. In step with a Soviet audience’s expectations of their films in the silent era, this comedy feature is not wholly a comedy. There is a surging undercurrent of unstable life circumstances and loss. It is far more about errant assumptions and the pain they cause than it is about love and lightness. The production itself is a series of episodic sequences rather than a flowing narrative, and a detailed synopsis of the film reads as disjointed and illogical. Latugin’s film-within-film documentary foretells of the whole production’s film-within-film framework. And you thought The Player was an original idea.
Igor Ilinskii is the mugging comedian of the film — something of a Jerry Lewis in an Ingmar Bergman film. He given a few opportunities to cut loose and Ilinskii takes them to buffoonish extremes. As would be expected, the American businessman is occasionally the source of slapstick comedy — as when he examines the fallen clerk for signs of life (should we be watching this?) — but chiefly he is shown to be an aloof, excessive and corrupting antagonist.
The production is replete with wonderful shots of the streets of Moscow with its grand and detailed architecture. Also, as a sidebar, the behind-the-scenes view of film production at the Mezhrabpom-Rus studio in Moscow raises the bewildering questions as to why certain things are being done on-screen, such as spraying the cinema lights with a liquid mist before shooting. — Carl Bennett
Kino Lorber, K759, 7-38329-07592-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 30 August 2011.
Country of origin: USA
This edition of The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom (1924) is presented from the very-good 35mm restoration print prepared in 2007 by La Cinémathèque de Toulouse in collaboration with Cineteca del Comune di Bologna, with laboratory work by L’Immagine Ritrovata. A 35mm intermediate positive with Russian intertitles from Gosfilmofond film archive was the basis for the restoration materials.
As with many surviving Russian films, the source print’s exposures fluctuate on occasion with frames that range from slightly over-exposed in the middle graytones to a little too dark. The sporatic fluctuations are just enough to occasionally pull one’s attention off the progress of the story. The print itself is flecked with moderate dust and speckling, and is marred by other distracting flaws such as emulsion chipping, sprocket punctures in the frame and a few processing flaws. That being said, the standard-resolution video transfer appears to pull the most out of the source material.
The disc mastering is well-executed, although in the video transfer itself there is some aliasing of angled and curved lines in the picture that cannot be resolved to a practical smoothness by upscaling HD players: ie. stairstepped edges in the American’s eyeglasses, a boat oar, a roof line, etc. The aliasing appears to be in the original transfer as the intertitles’ typefont appears with smooth edges throughout the presentation. The disc could have benefitted from a high-definition video transfer carefully downsampled to a standard resolution to fit within the capacity restrictions of DVD. We sometimes think that films from less-than-perfect duplicate source materials look better from an upscaled standard-definition DVD than in the sharpness of HD, which can emphasize the shortcomings of a source print. Here, the film is reasonably well-served to be issued exclusively on DVD as the results can be less-detailed but smoother looking than from an HD source.
The film is accompanied by music composed and performed on piano, hammered dulcimer, guitar, cello, double-bass and other instruments by Charlotte Castellat and David Lefèbvre.
Too long out-of-print on home video, this DVD is our recommended edition of The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom.
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.