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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Film Group Stages Encore

The work of the French film distribution and production company Gaumont, once a cinematic force in Russia but expelled from the country in 1918, is returning to Russian screens.

Gaumont is celebrating its centennial with a retrospective of 13 of its films, including recent hits like "Les Visiteurs" (The Visitors), "Nikita," and "La Lune dans le Caniveau" (The Moon in the Gutter), as well as classics like "Z?ro de Conduite" (Zero for Conduct), directed by Jean Vigo, and Robert Bresson's "Un Condamn? ? Mort S'est Echapp?" (A Man Escaped). The movies are being shown in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod and other cities of the former Soviet Union. Russian TV -- primarily NTV -- will air about 40 films in 1995 produced and distributed by Gaumont.

"An engineer and businessman, L?on Gaumont, the founding father of our company, created a powerful film empire at the turn of the century," said the Gaumont president Nicolas Seydoux at the opening of the Gaumont retrospective at Dom Kino last week. "We are proud to restore the time-honored tradition of Gaumont's film 'mission' in Russia."

Gaumont built his empire on both feature films and documentary footage. The company was an early experimenter in color and sound films. In 1912, Gaumont opened a New York studio for English-language film productions and sent film reporters to remote parts of the world. The engineer-turned-film-tycoon bought the enormous circus and music hall "L'Hippodrome" on Paris' Place Clichy and turned it into the Gaumont Palace Theater.

The opening of the distribution bureau in Russia was the next successful step in Gaumont's international expansion. Strolling down Ulitsa Petrovka in 1905, Muscovites could stop by the Gaumont office in the elegant Petrovsky Passazh department store. Nearby was the firm's film equipment store.

A Gaumont staff cinematographer, Pyotr Novitsky, filmed sensational footage of Tsar Nicholas II's coronation and the disaster at Khodynka Meadow, in which more than a thousand of the tsar's subjects who had come to recieve coronation mementos, were crushed to death after the crowd stampeded. The enterprising cameraman also shot tsarist military parades and scenes from the life of the aristocracy, as well as events of the February Revolution.

Generally, however, Gaumont in Russia stuck to distribution, rather than producing -- unlike its rival Path?, which tried to produce films in Moscow before Russian filmmakers came into their own.

Its logo a scarlet daisy, Gaumont filled theaters in Russia with social commentaries, farces and melodramas. But a spy thriller series by Louis Feuillade -- including "Fantomas" (1913), starring a masked, tuxedoed phantom; "Vampires" (1915), with sexy star Musidora (1915); and "Judex," featuring an elegant city slicker (1916), were among the biggest hits with Russians.

Gaumont's operations in Russia, as well as those of other foreign enterprises, were shut down by the Bolsheviks. But like some of those other businesses -- such as Smirnoff and Faberg? -- Gaumont hopes to make a comeback, and is working with the Russian film distributor Most Media to re-enter the Russian market -- incredibly, contracting with the makers of pirated videos, who can produce high-quality videotapes with the Gaumont logo.

Seydoux said Gaumont also has hopes of making films in Russia. "We are ready to invest in coproductions with promising Russian filmmakers," Seydoux said. "The only requirement is that the national identity and a searching for oneself be reflected, without intentions to imitate Hollywood or to represent a touristy image of 'exotic' Russia to European audiences. Only if this is so will the films be liked by Frenchmen, as well as by Russians."

Showings of Gaumont films, in French with Russian subtitles, continue in Moscow through Sunday at the Illyuzion with "As des As" (Ace of Aces) Friday at 1 P.M., 5:30 P.M. and 7:15 P.M.; "Les Visiteurs" on Saturday at 1:15 P.M., 5 P.M. and 7 P.M.; and "Nikita" on Sunday at 1 P.M. and 5 P.M. The theater is at 15 Kotelnicheskaya Naberezhnaya 15. Tel: 915-4353. Nearest metro: Taganskaya.