“The Lion Of The Moguls” was the final Jean Epstein silent film that was showing at MIFF this year and sadly it was my least favourite of them all, at least from a visual standpoint.
Somewhere in India, Roundghito-Sing, the popular guard of the castle is banished from the kingdom by the Grand Khan, the king of the kingdom, for saving a young woman from Khan’s sexual advances. In fact, the king sends his men to kill the young guard, but he ends up escaping and finding help on a large boat that happens to be passing nearby. On board the boat is a film crew shooting a new film with big time actress Anna. Although a star, Anna doesn’t seem particularly happy and the reason for this is the constant attention forced on her by the film’s financer Mr. Morel. Although unfamiliar with the art form of cinema, it turns out that Roundghito-Sing is quite the actor and he gives up his past life to become a movie star. He and Anna become a couple but always in the background lurks Mr. Morel and his money. Morel eventually comes up with a plan to frame the naïve actor and have him sent to jail, leaving Anna all to himself. The film ends with the cops closing in on Roundgito-Sing, his Indian friends looking for him too, and Mr. Morel hanging around for the prizes. The reason also for the strong and instant connection between Anna and Roundghito-Sing is something in his story relates very closely to Anna’s mysterious past.
As I mentioned above this was my least favourite of the Epstein silent films screening at MIFF this year. It is not that the film is bad, in fact it is quite entertaining, it is just so standard. There is nothing special about “The Lion Of The Moguls”, it is really just a generic romance that was quite regular in the silent era. Even the usual Epstein visual flourishes that are his trademark are missing save for a few scenes. Visually the best scene in the film is one where Roundghito-Sing goes to a nightclub and gets seriously drunk. Epstein blends image upon image expertly giving a great appearance to the actor’s intoxication. Epstein also warps and blurs images in this scene to create the desired effect. Other superimpositions in shots include a scene when Anna feels Mr. Morel to be smothering her and many images of Morel appear together in the frame.
When the film began in India, I was worried, because all of these scenes just felt so fake, nothing looked real at all, so when the action shifted to the world of cinema, I felt a little relieved. It was almost like the filmmakers had no idea what India looked like and just made it up from their imagination. I suppose the basic strands of the plot exist in these scenes set in India, but they certainly underwhelmed me. In fact it wasn’t until towards the end when everybody was closing in on the couple that I really started to enjoy “The Lion Of The Moguls”, though the finale at the masque ball I thought was clichéd but really well handled.
Overall “The Lion Of The Moguls” was just your standard run of the mill romantic melodrama with a few of Epstein’s visual flourishes sprinkled within. It is not a bad film at all, and it would probably be a nice introduction for people unfamiliar with silent cinema, but for an Epstein film it was incredibly bland and for that reason I was disappointed in it.