This disc showcases three of the films made by the prolific and influential Russian director Yevgeniy Frantsevich Bauer, who sadly passed away in 1917 at a relatively young age. The first film, 'Twilight of a Woman's Soul' (1913), seems the weakest of the trio, although one shouldn't expect a huge amount from something that was made when the feature-length film was in its infancy. None of these films are even an hour long. In this film in particular, Vera, a young woman who wants to use her high social class to do some good with the less fortunate, is lured into the attic of a man whom she innocently assumes had good intentions. Instead of wanting the food she was bringing him, he rapes her and she kills him. When she gets married shortly after this incident, she initially keeps mum, but eventually confesses to her husband, whose reaction isn't exactly the most enlightened and understanding. Perhaps the weakness of this film isn't the short length or even the fact that features were in their infancy, but rather because, given the era, a lot of the most important events could only be vaguely hinted at instead of portrayed in a more direct way. For example, the rape could have been made more immediately obvious without being as graphic as such a scene would be today.
'The Dying Swan' (1916) was my favorite of the trio. The beautiful Gizella (Vera Karalli) is a mute who is betrayed by Viktor, the man she believed loved her. After she discovers him with another woman, she runs away and, together with her doting father, leaves the city and eventually finds huge success as a ballet dancer. While performing one night, she is seen by the artist Glinskiy, who feels that this sad dancer may be the perfect model for his dream painting. Glinskiy is a very macabre figure who is obsessed with death and dying, having many of the same obsessions that Bauer himself did. Things get more complicated when Viktor comes back into Vera's life.
'After Death' (1915) is a compelling psychological drama based on 'Clara Milich,' the last story ever written by Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, and actually stays closer to the storyline that you'd expect from a movie based on a book or short story. Andrey lives with his aunt, and doesn't really get out much, so obsessed is he with his dead mother and his studies. One night his friend Tsenin succeeds in taking him out to the theatre, where he becomes enraptured by one of the performers, Zoya Kadmina (also played by Vera Karalli). Zoya is even more taken with him, and sends him a note asking him to meet her at a specific time and place. However, he rejects her love at their brief meeting, and she goes away very depressed. Three months later Andrey learns of her death, which is believed to be a suicide. Andrey feels himself to blame, and becomes obsessed with her, trying to learn everything he can about her by visiting and talking with her relatives and former co-workers at the theatre, and even constantly dreaming about her and seeing haunting visions of her.
Also included are brief commentaries on selected portions of the three films, together with a stills gallery. The gallery features stills from numerous other films Bauer directed in addition to just the three presented here. The soundtracks for the films are also top-notch gorgeous. As a lover of early cinema and all things Russian, I'd love to see more of Yevgeniy Frantsevich's films released. He really was an innovative director, setting the stage for the later great Soviet directors such as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Barnets.