La Princesse Mandane

France 1928. Dir Germaine Dulac.

With Edmonde Guy, Edmond van Duren.

La Princesse Mandane is a rarely screened commercial feature by an outspoken feminist director who is better known for her avant-garde work. Its brazen embrace of fashionable costume and glamorisation techniques may surprise some of Dulac’s fans. Like the earlier costume-set film extravaganza L’Atlantide (Jacques Feyder, 1921), Mandane was adapted from a novel by Pierre Benoît. Rather than being a mere escape fantasy, however, Dulac’s is a witty and knowing commentary on Orientalism and mainstream cinema. Played by the beautiful French revue dancer Edmonde Guy, the Princess, the ‘creature de rêve’ as Dulac saw her, is a self-possessed, elegant modern-day mondaine. She is a masterclass in artful lounging, posing and yes, slowly descending that obligatory grand ‘Ziegfeldian’ staircase in a sequinned dress with an impossibly long train.