Gance has a real problem with Lucrezia Borgia… none of his characters are likable. Even Antonin Artaud, playing a friar who rallies against the Borgia regime, is unlikable and he’s the film’s closest thing to a good guy. Gance shoots Artaud like a lunatic.
It’s also not a film about Lucrezia Borgia, it’s a film about the Borgias. Edwige Feuillère’s Lucrezia is a far second behind Gabriel Gabrio’s César. Feuillère isn’t bad, but she’s playing an impossible role. She’s not supposed to be likable or even sympathetic, but still tragic.
As for Gabrio, he seems to model his performance on a wild boar. He’s not even interesting to watch because being so evil all the time is boring. Especially since he’s in most of the film.
The film also concerns Machiavelli (played by Aimé Clariond) and his influence on Gabrio’s César. If Gance had structured the film from Clariond’s perspective, it might have been a little better. It certainly couldn’t have been a worse approach.
Gance jumps around–a month here, a year there, a decade or two… there’s no accounting of the time as it passes. With its ninety-some minute run time, one has to wonder if Lucrezia Borgia wasn’t supposed to be much, much longer. Like three hours.
The film’s at its strongest in the first half, before it becomes clear Gance is operating on a severely restricted budget (people talk about locations instead of visiting them).
Lucrezia Borgia isn’t terrible, but there’s nothing to recommend it.
Directed by Abel Gance; screenplay by Gance, Léopold Marchand and Henri Vendresse, based on a novel by Alfred Schirokauer; director of photography, Roger Hubert; edited by Roger Mercanton; music by Marcel Lattès; production designers, Henri Ménessier and René Renoux; released by Héraut Film.
Starring Edwige Feuillère (Lucrezia Borgia), Gabriel Gabrio (César Borgia), Maurice Escande (Jean Borgia, Duke of Gandie), Roger Karl (Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI), Aimé Clariond (Niccollo Machiavelli), Philippe Hériat (Filippo, sculptor-lover), Jacques Dumesnil (Giannino Sforza, Duke of Milano), Max Michel (Alfonse de Aragon), Louis Eymond (Capt. Mario, officer-lover), Jean Fay (Tybald), René Bergeron (Pietro), Gaston Modot (Fracassa), Antonin Artaud (Girolamo Savonarola), Marcel Chabrier (Un moine – l’envoyé de Savonarole), Georges Prieur (Baron de Villeneuve), Louis Perdoux (Carlo), Yvonne Drines (Flamette), Mona Dol (La Vespa), Jeannine Fromentin (La Malatesta), Josette Day (Sancia, Lucrezia’s companion) and Daniel Mendaille (Micheletto, chief henchman).