JDIFF 2013: Natan

 

The 11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (14-24 February 2013)

Natan

Fri, 15th February
IFI 1
18.10
65mins

A new documentary from Paul Duane is a reason to enter into the cinema with the buzzing anticipation that you are about to encounter the fascinating life of a character whose story burns up the screen. His documentaries thrive on figures rejected by those who shape history, and seek to restore their extraordinary presence into the public consciousness.

After his compelling portrait of John Healy, the wino-turned chess champion, turned literary celebrity in Barbaric Genius and the punked-up thrills of Jerry McGill in Very Extremely Dangerous, Duane now brings us Natan, a remarkable tale of a pioneer of French cinema who was written out of its history, written maliciously back into it and now, with Duane’s latest documentary, Natan’s life has been re-written in an attempt to bring fact to bear upon fiction and bring truth to a myth that had become history.

Natan addresses the forgotten history of a man who shaped the French Film industry in the 1920s and 30s. What little is known of him is a web of viscious scurrilous lies. The documentary, expertly written by David Cairns, provides a ridiculously fascinating portrait of how the reality of the man who was a pioneer, technological visionary, director and producer of over 60 films, proponent of the business model of control of production, distribution, and exhibition, and one-time owner of Pathé, the world’s largest film equipment and production company, was deconstructed and mangled into a cauldron of lies, his reputation and achievements stained as he was cast as a monster, a Jewish swindler, pornography peddler, Pathé pillager, fraudster and – animal lovers , look away now – duck-buggerer.

Most tragic of all is the shocking details of his death – a victim of the anti-Semitism of France in the 1930s.

The film is constructed around some amazing research and remarkable archive footage (of Natan’s films and Natan himself, plus archive footage that provided the “evidence” for the false allegations) and interviews, including Natan’s granddaughter, interlaced with David Cairns’ ingenious use of a voiceover narrative, which personalises the film’s subject and brings a rewarding immediacy to the film’s core, including a deviceful use of a Papier-mâché head, which is always good to see.

Here is a story that needed to be told and needs to be seen – let’s hope it gets the distribution it deserves.

Steven Galvin

 

Check out our exclusive interview with director Paul Duane in the current issue of Film Ireland magazine, available now.

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