Shot in the Fall of 1916 and released in theatres a year later, Thais is the only extant film of the four directed by Anton Giulio Bragaglia in his early, avant-garde career, in this case along with film director Riccardo Cassano. Considered as a cult movie of Italian Futurism, Thais has survived thanks to an incomplete vintage print (740 mt of 1446 mt total footage as per censorship records) with French intertitles owned by the Cinémathèque française and a 1970’s black and white duplicate that Henri Langlois had had done. Rarely screened, often resorting to poor-quality prints, Thais risked destruction as the tinted print began to show several marks of decomposition; in 2021, the Italian Cineteca Nazionale approached the Cinémathèque française to rescue the film and acquire a print, which led to a collaboration for its restoration.
The film’s heroine is an eccentric countess, played by Russian actress Thaïs Galitzky, who lives in a house decorated with hypnotic geometrical shapes. She makes a game of seducing married men, dragging them to ruin, but when she pursues the husband of her best friend, the latter sets out on a tragic horse ride and kills herself. Now repentant, Thais also decides to commit suicide by gas and shuts herself in a room, where she remains deadly trapped in spite of a late change of heart.
The current value of Thais lies in a dissonant storytelling compared to the standards of the time, in the symmetrical passions of the two heroines, and, most importantly, in the refined costumes and eclectic production design, made by futurist artist Enrico Prampolini, revealing Secessionist, Surrealist, and abstract influences.
The restoration focussed on the analysis and rescue of the flammable print of the period, including parts of the 1970’s duplicate when the footage was too damaged. Thanks to the resulting new version, however incomplete, the audience can now appreciate the recovered surviving colours that, to some extent, have revived the work’s chromatic texture.
The film will premiere Saturday March 11, 2023, 2 p.m., at the Salle Jean Epstein, with the introduction of Céline Gailleurd, Maria Assunta Pimpinelli, and Hervé Pichard and the musical accompaniment of Adrien Leconte and Loïc Vergnaux.
After the Parisian event, Thais will also have an Italian ‘debut’ by the end of 2023.