29 October 2012

Samson Fainsilber

Handsome Samson Fainsilber (1904 – 1983) was a French, Romanian born actor. He appeared in several films of Abel Gance in the 1930’s and of Alain Resnais in the 1970’s.

Samson Fainsilber
French postcard by Edition Chantal, Paris, no. 33. Photo: Studio Rudolph.

Drunken Orgy, Replete With Rape And Bestiality
Samson Fainsilber was born in Iaşi, Romania in 1904. He was the son of journalist Matei Rusu. His brother was the film critic Benjamin Fainsilber. His Jewish family fled the country and found refuge in France. Samson grew up in Paris. In 1924 he made his stage debut in Les Cadets at the Theatre des Mathurins. He went to Italy, where he acted with Ida Rubinstein. He also played in Histoires de France (1929), written and directed by Sacha Guitry at the Théâtre Pigalle. From then on, Samson also started to appear in the cinema. Among his first films were Le Requin/The Shark (1929, Henri Chomette), the first full-length French sound film, and the Sci-Fi Disaster film La Fin du monde/End of the World (1930, Abel Gance) with Victor Francen. Hal Erickson at AllMovie: “Never one to do anything by halves, director Abel Gance delivers just what the title La Fin du Monde promises: The End of the World. As a comet speeds along on a collision course with Planet Earth, the world prays for a miracle. (…) Once all hope is abandoned, virtually all of civilization degenerates into a drunken orgy, replete with rape and bestiality. The worst is reserved for last, as the ever-approaching comet causes a plethora of natural disasters before the final ‘Big Bang.’ For its premiere engagements in 1929, La Fin du Monde was outfitted with a primitive but effective stereophonic-sound system, the aural equivalent to Abel Gance's Cinerama-like ‘Triptychs’ in his 1927 masterpiece Napoleon. With his typical flair for the messianic, Gance originally released his film as Abel Gance's La Fin du Monde.” Fainsilber would work for Gance again in the melodrama Mater Dolorosa/The Pledge (1932, Abel Gance) in which he had an affair with his brother’s wife (Line Noro). For Napoléon Bonaparte (1935, Abel Gance), a re-edited sound version of Gance's silent masterpiece Napoleon (1927, Abel Gance), he did the voice of Danton. Finally, he co-starred with Georges Milton in Gance’s Jérôme Perreau/The Queen and the Cardinal (1935, Abel Gance). In Odette (1935, Jacques Houssin, Giorgio Zambon), the handsome Fainsilber was the love interest of Italian diva Francesca Bertini. He could also be seen in popular genre films like the lavish swashbuckler Les Trois Mousquetaires/The Three Musketeers (1932, Henri Diamant-Berger) in which he played the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu, and Le Bossu/The Hunchback (1934, René Sti) with Josseline Gael. After this busy period followed a few years in which he did not make films. In the late 1930’s he returned on the screen in Retour à l'aube/She Returned at Dawn (1938, Henri Decoin) with Danielle Darrieux, and Tourbillon de Paris/Whirlwind of Paris (1939, Henri Diamant-Berger). Then the occupation of France by the Nazis, once again interrupted the career of the Jewish actor. He used the time in hiding to write a book, L'acteur de theater (the stage actor), published in 1944.

FAINSILBER, Samson. L'acteur de théâtre_Raoul Solar & SPEM (Monaco), 1944. Signed
Cover of L'acteur de theater. Collection: Performing Arts / Artes Escénicas.

Heart-Wrenching Ordeal
After the war, Samson Fainsilber made a come-back in the cinema with the comedy Dorothée cherche l'amour/Dorothy Looks For Love (1945, Edmond T. Gréville) featuring Suzy Carrier. He also appeared in the resistance film Les Clandestins/Clandestine (1946, André Chotin). Hal Erickson reviews the film at AllMovie: “French ‘underground’ films were as common as the measles in 1946. Among the better efforts was Les Clandestins, directed with realism and conviction by Andre Chotin. A romantic subplot involving two resistance fighters can be forgotten; the film's strong suit is its vivid recreations of the horrors and deprivations suffered by the French under Nazi domination. Particularly heart-wrenching is the ordeal of a philosophical Jewish doctor, played by Samson Fainsilber. Commendably, the Nazis are not depicted as caricatures; their matter-of-fact behavior while committing the most heinous of atrocities is far more frightening because of its ‘normalcy’.” In 1948, Fainsilber slapped a theater critic but he was not aware of the consequences. The French association of critics decided to no longer mention Fainsilber in reviews. However, he continued to appear in plays and films, some made by noted directors. He appeared for Sacha Guitry uncredited as Cardinal Mazarin in the film spectacles Si Versailles m'était conté/Affairs in Versailles (1953, Sacha Guitry) and Si Paris nous était conté/If Paris Were Told to Us (1955, Sacha Guitry). A curiosity was the album 32 poèmes d'amour (32 Love Poems), which he recorded for Pathé. He continued to appear in the theatre. A success was Madame Sans-Gêne by Victorien Sardou and Émile Moreau, directed by Alfred Pasquali. In 1960 it was staged in the Théâtre de l'Ambigu and retaken in 1962 at the Théâtre des Célestins. He also worked for television. A huge success was Janique Aimée (1963, Jean-Pierre Desagnat), a drama series of 52 episodes of 13 minutes for the ORTF. Another TV success was the mini-series Docteur Teyran (1981, Jean Chapot) starring Michel Piccoli. His later film credits include Don Juan 73/Don Juan (Or If Don Juan Were a Woman) (1973, Roger Vadim) starring Brigitte Bardot in her last film, and the action comedy L’animal/Stuntwoman (1977, Claude Zidi) featuring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Raquel Welch. Fainsilber played supporting parts in three films by Alain Resnais. The crime drama Stavisky (1974, Alain Resnais) featured Belmondo as a historic financier, con-man and swindler who was arrested in 1934 for selling phony stock but was never brought to trial. In the psychological drama Providence (1977, Alain Resnais) starred Dirk Bogarde and John Gielgud. The film swept the Cesar Awards, France's Oscar equivalent, winning seven including Best Director for Resnais. In their last cooperation La vie est un roman/Life is a Bed of Roses (1982, Alain Resnais), Fainsilber supported André Dussolier and Vittorio Gassman. It was his last film. In 1983, the 79-years-old Samson Fainsilber died in Paris following a heart attack. He was married to actress Simone Paris.

Trailer Stavisky (1974). Source: Manuel 19771 (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Der Spiegel (German), AllMovie, Wikipedia (French and Romanian) and IMDb.

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