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27 June 2016

Diana Karenne

We're at the 30th edition of Cinema Ritrovata. Till 2 July we'll stay in Bologna, Italy, to blog about the stars of the festival. In the programme section ITALIA 1916: WOMEN AND WAR a fragment of Oltre la Vita, oltre la morte (Ernesto Maria Pasquali, 1916) will be presented. This fragment was recently preserved at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Torino (Turin). This is interesting while there are just a few still existing films with Diana Karenne (1888-1940), one of the divas of the silent Italian cinema. Between 1916 and 1920, Karenne fascinated European audiences with her eccentric dresses and make-up, and with her primadonna behaviour.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard by Photo Vettori, Bologna.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 448.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard by Fotocelere, Torino.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard by Fotocelere, Torino.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard by Fotocelere, Torino, no. 41.

Gypsy Passion


Diana Karenne was born as Leucadia Konstantia in 1888 in Kiev in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine). Some sources mention the former Prussian cities Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) or Stettin (now Szczeczin, Poland) as her birthplace.

Her brother was film producer Gregor Rabinovitch, who worked in the German film industry during the 1920s and early 1930s.

In 1915 she landed in Turin in Italy where she got acquainted with producer Ernesto Maria Pasquali.

He launched her in Passione tzigana/Gypsy Passion (Umberto Paradisi, 1916).

Immediately she became a star, and between 1916 and 1922 she played leads in many successful films.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard. Vettori, Bologna, no. 551.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard by Esci, S.A., no. 558 Photo: San Marco Films.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard, no. 355.

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci, Milano, no. 567. Photo: Distr. SA San Marco Films.

Maud, don't play with my passion


Quite soon, Diana Karenne managed to write and direct her own films, and she even designed her own film posters.

Il romanzo di Maud/Maud's Romance (1917) was the second film Karenne directed herself, after Lea (Diana Karenne, Salvatore Aversano, 1916). She also played the lead in both films.

Il romanzo di Maud, based on the French novel Les demi-vierges (1895) by Marcel Prévost, tells the tale of the free-spirited Maud de Vouvres. Maud's lover is an opportunistic and dubious gentleman, Giuliano di Suberceaux. When their relationship has an impasse, Maud sees new perspectives in Massimo, a provincial enamored with her.

Giuliano doesn't give up and forces her to see him in secret. When Maud en Massimo are married, Giuliano tells poor Massimo the truth, but Maud denies all and chases him away. When Giuliano menaces to kill himself, she coldly responds that she doesn't care.

When Massimo forces her to tell, Maud admits her former love but states Massimo is now her only love. Massimo, though, abandons her, unable to forgive her.

The film was heavily censored in Italy. After its first release, it always circulated as Les demi-vierges, in particular abroad.

Diana Karenne in Il romanzo di Maud
Italian postcard by Film Soc. An. Ambrosio, Torino. "Maud, don't play with my passion", her lover Giuliano implores her in Il romanzo di Maud (1917).

Diana Karenne in Il romanzo di Maud
Italian postcard by Film Soc. An. Ambrosio, Torino. "One step further and I throw myself from the window", Maud (Diana Karenne) says in Il romanzo di Maud (1917).

Diana Karenne in Histoire d'un Pierrot
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci, Milano. Photo: still of Diana Karenne in Pierrot/Histoire d'un Pierrot (1917).

Diana Karenne
Italian postcard for Pierrot/Histoire d'un Pierrot (1917).

Diana Karenne in Zoya
Italian postcard by Vettori, Bologna. Photo: Diana Karenne in the Italian silent film Zoya or Zoja (Giulio Antamoro, 1920), a Tiber Film production. The man left might be Mario Parpagnoli.

Pierrot


Diana Karenne also directed herself in Pierrot/Histoire d'un Pierrot (1917).

She also continued to play in films by other directors, such as Redenzione (Carmine Gallone, 1919), Zoya (Giulio Antamoro, 1920) with André Habay, Miss Dorothy (Giulio Antamoro, 1920) with Carmen Boni, and Smarrita (Giulio Antamoro, 1921).

Inspired by the first film superstar Asta Nielsen, Karenne played women who opposed society.

Between 1916 and 1920 Karenne fascinated audiences with her eccentric dresses and make-up, and her primadonna behaviour. Critics didn't accept her transgressive characters but the public flocked to see her films.

Diana Karenne & Ivan Mozzhukhin in Casanova
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 83/2. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still of Diana Karenne and Ivan Mozzhukhin in Casanova (Alexandre Volkoff, 1927). This scene was shot near the Venice cemetery Isola di San Michele.

Diana Karenne and Ivan Mozzhukhin in Casanova
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 83/6. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still of Diana Karenne and Ivan Mozzhukhin in Casanova (Alexandre Volkoff, 1927).

Diana Karenne in Casanova
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 928. Photo: Société des Cineromans / Micheluzzi-Verleih / Cine Alliance Film. Publicity still for Casanova (Alexandre Volkoff, 1927).

Diana Karenne and Ivan Mozzhukhin in Casanova
Italian postcard by S.A.G. Leoni, no. 134. Photo: publicity still of Diana Karenne and Ivan Mozzhukhin in Casanova (Alexandre Volkoff, 1927).

Diana Karenne in Le collier de la Reine (1929)
Spanish postcard by PD / Imp. Cinematorgaphicas Dümmatzen, no. 32. Photo: publicity still for Le collier de la Reine/The Queen's Necklace (Tony Lekain, Gaston Ravel, 1929).

Casanova's Major Lover


In 1921, when things went bad for the Italian film industry, Diana Karenne moved to Paris and later to Berlin.

In Germany she had major roles such as the title role in Marie Antoinette (Rudolf Meinert, 1922), and as one of Casanova's lovers in the visually splendid Casanova (Alexandre Volkoff, 1926) starring Ivan Mozzhukhin.

Other directors of her films were Robert Wiene (Das Spiel mit dem Feuer/Playing With Fire (1921)), Richard Oswald (Die Frau von vierzig Jahren/A Forty Years Old Woman (1925)), Yakov Protazananov (L'ombre de péché/The Shadow of Sin (1923)), and Gaston Ravel (Le collier de la reine/The Queen's Necklace (1929)).

When sound film arrived, Diana Karenne retired from the film business. She withdrew with her husband to the German city of Aachen, only reappearing once in a bit part in Manon Lescaut (Carmine Gallone, 1940), an Italian production derived from the work of Abbé Prévost, starring Alida Valli and Vittorio de Sica.

Karenne was also a painter, musician and poet. In July 1940 she was heavily injured by allied bombing of Aachen and she remained in coma for three months, never regaining consciousness. Diana Karenne died in October 1940.

Diana Karenne
German Postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 531/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Diana Karenne
German Postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 531/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Diana Karenne
German Postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 531/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Diana Karenne
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 531/4, 1919-1924. Photo: Alex Binder.

Sources: Marlène Pilaete (CinéArtistes.Com), Vittorio Martinelli, (Le dive del silenzio), Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano, 1917), Wikipedia (German), and IMDb.

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