14 January 2020

Spasimi (1917)

EFSP starts a series of weekly posts on Spanish collectors cards, published by Chocolate manufacturers. Ivo Blom collects these cards, which were all published in the late 1910s. We start the series with a series by Chocolate Salas-Sabadell about the Italian silent film Spasimi/Spasms (Giuseppe Giusti, 1917). The Spanish release title of the film was Espasmos. Star was French actress Fabienne Fabrèges (1889-?) who was also a scriptwriter and director of silent films. She had a rich career at Gaumont, and afterwards in Italian silent film. The cards series consists of six cards, all of which Ivo found. As far as known, no copy of the film exists anymore.

Fabienne Fabrèges in Spasimi (1916)
Spanish collectors card by Chocolate Salas-Sabadell, no. 1. Photo: Corona Films. Fabienne Fabrèges and Didaco Chellini in Spasimi (Giuseppe Giusti, 1917).

Fabienne Fabrèges in Spasimi (1916)
Spanish collectors card by Chocolate Salas-Sabadell, no. 2. Photo: Corona Films. Fabienne Fabrèges and probably Didaco Chellini in Spasimi (Giuseppe Giusti, 1917).

Gracious Fabienne


The plot of Spasimi/Spasms (Giuseppe Giusti, 1917) is told on the backside of the cards. Fabienne Fabrèges plays an orphan, alone and ruined. At the auction of her palace, Marquis Chabrol asks Fabienne to become the piano teacher of his daughter Renée. She is overcome by the wealth of the marquis's mansion, while Henri, the son of the marquis, falls in love with her.

His father chases him away and Henri goes for easy pleasures. Fabienne takes care of the ill marquis, which is rewarded by the marquis' gratitude but also the envy of his daughter. During a nightly garden party by the Count of St. Privat, Fabienne is the toast of the evening. The count whispers sweet words to her. She confesses him her only mistake in life but he forgives her and asks her in marriage.

Jealous Renée plots to ruin Fabienne's happiness by telling her brother Henri how fond their father is of Fabienne and asking him to return immediately. Henri returns after the wedding and is vexed Fabienne didn't choose him. The count, remembering Fabienne's confusion she once had another man, takes her on a honeymoon to far away places.

Henri pursues them, though. He confronts Fabienne, who declares she despises him and loves her husband, but she thinks he will kill her husband, so she agrees to a secret rendezvous. The count finds the letter and suspects his wife of adultery. Armed with a revolver, Fabienne goes to Henri's house to defend her husband, followed by the Count. But entering the house, she finds the corpse of Henri, who has killed himself and holds in his hands a letter exonerating Fabienne. From that day, the happiness for the couple returns.

In his reference work Il cinema muto italiano (1916, part II), Vittorio Martinelli doesn't list any of the other actors, and only gives a vague plot. Just like in Signora giurati (Giuseppe Giusti, 1916), one of the few remaining Italian films with Fabienne Fabrèges, and produced almost at the same time as Spasimi, we may conclude that Attilio De Virgiliis played the male lead of the film, the Count. If the same cast of Signori giurati collaborated, then Bonaventura Ibanez may have played the old Marquis, Didaco Chellini young Henri, and Valeria Creti Renée. Indeed, Chellini looks like the man on the first two cards.

Spasimi premiered in Rome on 12 June 1917. While the Italian press thought the plot unimpressive, it praised Fabienne Fabrèges' performance as "gracious, without the grand gestures and poses of the worst style", probably referring to the Italian divas or rather their epigones (Giuseppe Lega in Cine-Gazzetto, Rome, 9-6-2017). The film apparently was a public success.

Fabienne Fabrèges in Spasimi (1916)
Spanish collectors card by Chocolate Salas-Sabadell, no. 3. Photo: Corona Films. Fabienne Fabrèges and Attilio De Virgiliis in Spasimi (Giuseppe Giusti, 1917).

Fabienne Fabrèges in Spasimi (1916)
Spanish collectors card by Chocolate Salas-Sabadell, no. 4. Photo: Corona Films. Fabienne Fabrèges and Attilio De Virgiliis in Spasimi (Giuseppe Giusti, 1917).

A modern young woman


Fabienne Fabrèges was part of a generation of 'modern' young women who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, were able to overcome the roles of women who were forced upon them in Western society when pursuing their careers.

Fabrèges began as a young actress at the age of 15 in 'Cousin Bette' by Honoré de Balzac. In 1911, her talent as a performer was already receiving favourable reviews. Then she was part of the troupe of the company of Charles Baret, performing in Strasbourg and various French cities. Fabrèges also played in theatrical performances abroad, notably on the stages of Saint-Petersburg, Berlin, London, and Madrid.

Fabrèges's film career (1910-1923) can be divided into three phases. Between 1910 and 1916, she worked in France for the Société des Établissements Gaumont where she joined Léonce Perret's troupe, director of the company with Louis Feuillade. At Gaumont she acted in some forty films, mostly directed by Perret, and from 1913 also by Feuillade, including the third episode of Fantomas (1913).

During the First World War, in 1916, Fabienne Fabrèges moved to Italy, where she was immediately recognised as a leading actress by the Italian film industry. Film historian Vittorio Martinelli notes that critics of the time hailed her as a great actress of international standing and praised her refined acting style in these first films.

Between 1916 and 1923, she played in over twenty Italian films. Fabrèges first acted at the Turin based company Corona Films, e.g. in Signora giurati (Giuseppe Giusti, 1916), of which a tinted print was found at the Dutch EYE Filmmuseum. Fabrèges here plays the owner of an opium den, who falls in love with one of her victims (Bonaventura Ibáñez). Fabrèges also scripted the film.

Indeed, for several of these Italian films, Fabrèges is also credited as screenwriter. In 1917 she also acted at other companies, such as Gladiator Film and Latino Ars. In 1918 she reached the apex of her career, when moving to De Giglio films. Producer Alfonso De Giglio was so impressed by her that he not only gave her several leads, but also let her found her own company, the Fabrèges Film Company. It operated under the aegis of De Giglio and produced four films in 1919: Il cuore di Musette, L’altalena della vita, Sua Maestà il Denaro, and Sua Maestà l’Amore.

Fabrèges scripted all four films and played the lead, while for L'altalena della vita she also functioned as director. Yet, despite praise for her direction and performance, critics condemned her script of the latter film. This may have meant the end of her own company (of which very few details are known), though Fabrèges still acted in two films by De Giglio in 1920, while a third had a late release in 1923.

Finally, somewhere in 1920-1921, she left the stage and the screen in Italy and moved to Britain, where she continued to perform on stage in theatres, and starred in one film, The Pennyless Millionnaire (Einar Bruun, 1921), with Stewart Rome in the lead, and Gregory Scott and Cameron Carr as co-stars.

There, her career seems to have ended after 1923, following a breakup in love. She retired to Scotland and no longer showed herself in public. It is unknown when and where Fabienne Fabrèges died. She is sometimes mentioned as Fabrège or Fabrege.

Fabienne Fabrèges in Spasimi (1916)
Spanish collectors card by Chocolate Salas-Sabadell, no. 5. Photo: Corona Films. Fabienne Fabrèges and Attilio De Virgiliis in Spasimi (Giuseppe Giusti, 1917).

Fabienne Fabrèges in Spasimi (1916)
Spanish collectors card by Chocolate Salas-Sabadell, no. 6. Photo: Corona Films. Fabienne Fabrèges and Attilio De Virgiliis in Spasimi (Giuseppe Giusti, 1917).

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano 1916 - Italian), Elena Nepoti (Women Film Pioneers Project), the collectors cards themselves, Wikipedia (English and French) and IMDb.

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