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Berlin 2007: Asta Nielsen is Hamlet

Asta Nielsen in Hamlet
Asta Nielsen in Hamlet

Sure, the 2007 Berlinale, which has kicked off this evening, will offer a number of good – hopefully, even a few great – new films. But for my money, the most interesting section this year is the Retrospective covering the roles of women in silent films of the 1910s and 1920s.

I've mentioned the Retrospective in a previous post, but I didn't know at the time that a restored (two-strip) color version of Sven Gade and Heinz Schall's Hamlet was going to be screened. Accompanied by Michael Riessler's new score, Hamlet, starring Grand Diva Asta Nielsen as the angst-ridden, cross-dressing prince(ss) of Denmark, will have its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival at 6 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Deutsche Kinemathek.

James Bazen, currently working on a research project about the silent era, watched one of the several circulating black-and-white versions of Hamlet. James (we've known one another for quite some time) calls Hamlet a “fascinating film,” made particularly intriguing by a gay subtext involving Horatio's affections for Hamlet – Horatio doesn't realize that the young prince is actually a princess in disguise. (Nielsen may have liked this sort of gender-bending role. She also played an androgynous character at least once before, in Urban Gad's Zapata's Band.)

The recently rediscovered color version has never been shown since the movie's initial release. It has been restored by the Deutsches Film Institut (DIF) and broadcaster ZDF, in cooperation with ARTE.

Claudia Dillmann (DIF), Nina Goslar (ZDF/ARTE), Karola Gramann (Kinothek Asta Nielsen) and Anke Mebold (DIF) are scheduled to take part in a panel discussion before the screening.

Additionally, the Berlin festival will present another recently rediscovered work, the 1931 sound (as in, added music and sound effects) version of Giovanni Pastrone's 1914 epic Cabiria. The original silent version of the Italian classic will also be screened. The sound and silent versions will be shown, respectively, on Sat., Feb. 17, and Sun., Feb. 18, both at 2 p.m. at CinemaxX 8. Both Cabiria versions have been restored by Turin's Museo Nazionale del Cinema.

The 57th Berlin International Film Festival runs until Feb. 18.

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