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Melies' magic and early French cinema treasures coming to HK

Cinema began with the Lumiere brothers' first public screening in Paris. More cinematic effects were created by pioneers like film director and magician Georges Melies, who conjured up scenes of apparitions, disappearances and metamorphoses.

Amusing shorts by Lumiere and Melies together with a series of rare French silent movies, will be showcased at the cinema of the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) from February 13 to March 14.

Audiences have a special treat in store February 13 to 15. Two descendants of Melies, Marie-Helene Leherissey-Melies and her son Lawrence Leherissey, will act as moderator and pianist respectively for those days' programmes.

The French classics are the second installment of the "Early European Cinema" series presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

For those who missed the 18 Italian silent films that were shown in December and January, there will be two additional screenings of the romantic "The Faun", "Caina - The Island and the Continent", love triangle "Nero" and the stunning "Spartacus" on February 22 at the HKFA.

And the third installment of the "Early European Cinema" series will take place from March 20 to April 5 with German film classics including Ernst Lubitsch's remarkable "Madame Dubarry", Robert Wiene's darkly psychological "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" and the mysterious "The Golem".

Two seminars - one on "French Movie Dreams" in Cantonese and the other on "French-German Cinema of the 1920s" in English - are scheduled for February 28 and March 20 respectively at the cinema of the HKFA.

A fun-filled free exhibition, "Attraction and Magic - Early European Cinema", can be seen from now until February 29 in the Exhibition Hall of the HKFA. With the themes "Invention", "Spectacle" and "Beauty", audiences will be stunned by the optical toys of the 19th century, the magical effects of Georges Melies, and the enduring images of screen legends.

With astonishing vigour and energy, Melies directed, sketched, acted, scripted and edited all his productions and was among the first to employ special effects.

"Melies' Magic" (I & II) is a selection of pieces, including the famous fantasy film "A Trip to the Moon", his first one-minute film "A Card Game", the super-funny "Up to Date Surgery", the imaginative "Mermaid" and his last production, "Conquest of the Pole".

With the generous assistance of the Institut Lumiere in Lyon, some of the earliest cinematic images, including the first films shown in the Paris premiere screening, are compiled in the special "The Lumiere Selection" as a tribute to the Lumiere Brothers.

The most lavish and witty super production of its time, "Casanova" (1927) is a non-stop display of spectacular action, palace intrigues, high comedy and farce, climaxing in an extravagantly decadent Venetian carnival scene. This restored archival version is the work of Cinematheque Francaise, which spent two years salvaging the negatives from various archives around the world.

The story of "Carmen" has inspired no less than 70 films. Feyder's version (1926) is a beautifully made epic that looks magnificent on a grand scale, yet remains intimate in details. The fight scenes are well-choreographed while the bull-fighting scene brings the film to an exhilarating climax. It is one of the most significant adaptations of the "Carmen" story.

A feature film with magnificent sets and elaborate scenes, "Nana" (1925) is the story of a mediocre working class actress who strives for a better life. It is director Jean Renoir's funny and bittersweet look at dreams that turn sour in a decadent 19th century Paris.

How can a straw hat make a groom's wedding day take a disastrous detour? A timeless comic masterpiece by Rene Clair, "The Italian Straw Hat" (1927) is one of the funniest films of all time. "The Woman and the Puppet" (1928) is a funny, but also erotic and intelligent drama with a sensuous and hugely entertaining plot while "The Late Mathias Pascal" (1925) is a comical interplay between fantasy and reality, with startlingly dark cinematography.

Jean Epstein - poet, film theorist and filmmaker - was one of the most fascinating and important figures in French cinema in the 20s. His "The Red Inn" (1923) is an extraordinary "double narrative": it is a murder mystery in which two stories from different periods are unfolded in parallel, only to become entwined in the end.

"The Devil in the Town" (1925) by Germaine Dulac, one of the first female filmmakers in France, features a cursed building believed to be haunted. The town is swept by mass hysteria when its St Gabriel statue is destroyed and a host of mysterious events ensues.

Not to be missed are "Vendemiaire" (1919) and "I Accuse" (1919)"; both are grim tales reflecting the futility of war. "The Flood" (1923) is the last piece by the avant-garde director Louis Delluc, who died at the age of 33.

All screenings have live music accompaniment and English title cards, except "The Lumiere Selection".

Tickets priced at $50 are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. There will be a 10% discount for each purchase of six to 10 tickets and a 20% discount for each purchase of 11 or more tickets.

For programme information call 2739 2139, 2734 2900 or visit or . Reservations can be made by phone on 2734 9009 or on the Internet at .

Ends/Friday, February 6, 2004
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