Bestia (1917) ** | Kinoteka London 2018
Writer-Director Aleksander Hertz | Cast: Pola Negri, Witold Kuncewicz, Jan Pawłowski, Maria Dulęba, Mia Mara. Melodrama | Poland / 67 min (incomplete)
Aleksander Hertz’s Bestia was one of the last of several films made by his company Sfinks starring his protégé Pola Negri under her real name Apolonia Chałupiec before she left for Germany in 1917, and, alas, the only one still surviving. Released in America in 1921 and slightly re-edited as The Polish Dancer to herald Negri’s arrival in Hollywood after making her name internationally in the German films of Ernst Lubitsch; it is to this version that Bestia owes its survival, and this was the version screened at Ognisko Polskie in partnership with this year’s Kinoteka Polish Film Festival.
Although popular playing A Woman of the World, (which became the title of one of her Hollywood vehicles), Negri in The Beast (to give it it’s literal title in English) proves far more sinned against than sinning; her choice of male company having done her no favours.
Bestia starts well with Miss Negri staying out late carousing with a bunch of drunken ne’er-do-wells (showing that Polish youth were as interested in the same things a hundred years ago as they remain today), and before long she has the world (and various men) at her feet as a raunchy cabaret dancer. Unfortunately she falls for a spineless stage door Johnny named Alexi, who neglects to inform her that he’s married, while the film’s emphasis shifts from Negri to Alexi’s dithering over whether or not to leave his wife. Negri’s honorable decision to reimburse money she’d earlier borrowed without permission from an oaf called Dimitri meanwhile seriously rebounds on her to her cost and it all ends in tears, with retribution meted out that bears little relation to the sins actually committed. RICHARD CHATTEN
KINOTEKA LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 7 -29 MARCH 2018