June 14, 2009

collected notes on Marie

[edited and republished]

Marie, a Hungarian Legend aka Spring Shower (1932)
directed by Paul Fejos
starring Annabella
produced by Osso in Hungarian and French

Burns writes:
Fejos's Spring Shower is one of the key Hungarian films of the 1930s and 1940s to explore the miserable lives led by maidservants. It tells the story of Mari, an austerely beautiful young peasant girl played by the French star, Annabella. Mari is seduced beneath a flowering tree by the admirer of one of the daughters of the prosperous family for whom she works, becomes pregnant and is cast out. Her lover gives her some money and then runs off. Respectable people gossip about her and she is refused work, so she moves to the city. There she becomes a maid in a smart brothel, where she is kindly treated by the prostitutes and the madam, and where her daughter is born. Mari and her daughter travel to her village, where she seems uplifted by the religious festival in which she takes part, and soothed by a statue of the Virgin Mary which she venerates. However, when she returns to the brothel, Mari's daughter is taken from her at the request of a group of stony-faced bourgeoisies who think that the child may be in moral danger. Mari is broken-hearted, leaves her friends and, unkempt and half-crazed, becomes a tramp. She goes back to the scene of her downfall and attacks the tree which has become its symbol. The bells of the church seem to call her, she stalks madly up the aisle, reaches for the statue of the Mary, and dies. But she is seen to ascend to heaven and when, fifteen years later, she realises that her daughter is about to be seduced beneath the same tree where she lost her own virginity, in fulfillment of an ancient folk-tale she sends down a spring shower to save the child from the unfortunate fate of her mother.

Spring Shower is like many 18th century English novels, such as Defoe's Moll Flanders, in revealing the vulnerable position of lower-class girls in hypocritical societies where men do what they like and women bear the blame. Here, as in Defoe, we see that the Establishment is on the side of expediency, not justice. In addition, we note that the only affection and humanity offered to Mari comes from the women at the brothel, declasees like herself and similarly rejected by the mainstream of society.

Yet Spring Shower is not like a work by, for example, Mariassy, a sociological expose which strives for authenticity above all. Fejos's film is, if not exactly pure poetry, at least largely fable. Its narrative is simple and exemplary; it has little dialogue although much music; it relies on striking, repeated motifs such as the flowering tree; its manner is sophisticatedly naif; it presents a world of feeling, not of fact; its conclusion is a matter of transcendence, not accommodation. Spring Shower is a fairy-tale, therefore, not a realistic account of the difficult life of one particularly ill-used servant girl. Its aim is imaginative truth rather than observation of reality. It gives us the story of an outsider, a girl like Cinderella who is cut off from the good things of life through no fault of her own, but who in the end magically achieves consolation (and, with the spring shower, even the capacity to influence events). It could hardly be thought that the film offers anything like advice to girls in Mari's position. Instead, it appeals to the emotions, affecting the audience by the uplifting power of its vision, not by the feasibility of its narrative. The spare, stylized cinematography by Istvan Eiben and Marlay Pawerell adds to the impression of the legend that the film wishes to convey, and Annabella gives a charming, luminous performance as the archetypical Mari. Altogether, Spring Shower is remarkable: an exception to the documentary rule which governs the modern Hungarian cinema and one of the most intensely metaphoric works of the 1930s.
H.D. writes:
...went to the Wien's biggest kino to see the Fejos film Marie, with Annabella. She really is lovely in it, but the film! It began very realistically with a servant getting landed with pup. She cant get work. Finally she lands in a bawdy house and has pup in middle of party. Then the bawdy house is reformed and the old dame keeper thereof crochets baby socks. But church bells ring and (we find afterwards in dream) the pup is carried in triumphal procession to church. Then police seize the pup to prevent its contamination. The servant takes to drink, goes mad, rushes into church and was removed walking -- and I mean photo-ed walking -- up sky steps to a heavenly kitchen of golden scrubbing pails and brushes where she empties soap suds of rain on to the man who seduced her. I myself was speechless from astonishment but half the kino wept and howled audibly. It is called a Hungarian legend. Marley (Mary Pickford's cameraman I think) did the photography all very soft focus, with many duck and blossom scenes. Fejos directed.

Dodds writes:
In Paul’s movie days, the beautiful Annabella was once one of his leading women -- very probably he had an affair with her. She had played the leading part in Marie (1932), the one of Paul’s Hungarian films which he liked best. When Annabella was leaving Hungary, Paul flew over her train (he was also an aviator) and stewed bushels of roses in front of the engine. People talked about it for a long time.
Fejos at Film Reference.
Fejos at Universal.
Annabella's obituary by Kevin Brownlow.

YouTube clip

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