L'inhumaine is a French science fiction film from 1924. The title translates to "the inhuman woman". Directed by avant-garde filmmaker Marcel L'Herbier (L'Argent, Le Bonheur), the film had distinctive sets created by a design team of architects and fine artists. Fernand Léger and René Lalique were some of the more notable names involved. An Opera singer named Georgette Leblanc requested that L'Herbier create a vehicle for her. She promised that she could provide American financing but the project couldn't be too abstract...
The story is a romantic melodrama (...science fiction melodrama!). Leblanc plays an arrogant woman who carelessly shrugs off multiple marriage proposals. "She cares nothing for humanity!” taunts the stylized title cards. Through ridiculous circumstances and after being bitten by a snake, she dies but she is brought back to life in a suitor's laboratory. Leblanc's scientist lover promises to make her famous by filming her and transmitting her voice over the radio, and then through a magic screen in his laboratory she can watch images of the people who are listening to her. She can become more humane by seeing who her music touches.
I had wanted to see this film for a long time. I'm always interested in early science fiction films and this emotive and woman centered story intrigued me. The sets are the best part and L'Herbier's compositions and bold mis-en-scene are striking. Architect Robert Mallet-Stevens designed the exteriors of the character's houses.
Aside from set designers, Marcel L'Herbier brought in a diverse group of contemporary artists to contribute to the film. Paul Poiret even designed the costumes. L'Herbier wanted the project to bring together different disciplines of modern art and showcase cinema as a complementary and distinctive art form in its own right.
The end result evidently pissed a lot of people off. The premiere enjoyed a Rite of Spring-like reaction. Supposedly there was a lot of fighting and arguing during the screenings. And the screenings evidently weren't much different from the production of the film itself. There was a huge formal soiree that was supposedly attended by Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, etc. But real life parties are frustrating to incorporate into filmmaking and can test the patience of a crew. Evidently the documented party dissolved into arguments and scuffles too. (Filmmaking tip: start drinking after the shoot).
There are so many awesome pictures and graphics from this movie I can't stand it!
Here's a clip-
And here's the whole movie!