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Napoléon (1929)

tomatometer

75

Average Rating: 7/10
Critic Reviews: 8
Fresh: 6 | Rotten: 2

No consensus yet.

audience

92

liked it
Average Rating: 4.3/5
User Ratings: 1,521

My Rating

Movie Info

The chef d'ouevre of legendary French filmmaker Abel Gance, the 235-minute Napoleon was supposed to have been the first installment in a multipart film study of the French military hero. Each of the film's set pieces is treated like a movie in itself: the opening pillow fights and snowball battles, staged while Napoleon is still a schoolboy (played by Russian youth Vladimir Roudenko), are choreographed on a scale worthy of D.W. Griffith. The plot proper begins with Napoleon's adult years. From

G,

Drama, Art House & International, Classics

Abel Gance

Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Cast

Latest News on Napoléon

November 13, 2013:
Rupert Sanders to Direct Napoleon Biopic
The Warner Bros. project doesn't have a title, but it'll depict the famous French general "almost as...

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All Critics (20) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (18) | Rotten (2)

There is in this edition of the picture an effort to cover too many historical incidents and the consequence is that quite a number of the passages are confused.

February 26, 2013 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Like D.W. Griffith, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas, but mostly James Cameron, Gance understood the thrill of the cinematic event and had the hubris to bring it off.

February 26, 2013 Full Review Source: Boston Globe
Boston Globe
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Napoleon is the last great silent epic. We will not see its like again.

February 26, 2013 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Gance uses techniques not much associated with silent film, like a hand-held camera, multiple superimpositions, split split screen, rapid-fire editing and flashbacks to rivet the audience's attention and bring history to vivid life.

March 29, 2012 Full Review Source: New York Post
New York Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The experience it provides - at times, akin to taking a drug - is unlike anything I've ever experienced in a movie theater.

March 26, 2012 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle | Comment (1)
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Albert Dieudonne in the title role is excellent.

March 26, 2009 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It turned out to be a commercial flop because the film cost too much to make.

February 21, 2014 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Gance's use of subjective camera was almost recklessly ambitious in its bid to give the spectator the most visceral viewing sensation, while his skill in blending and multiplying images was unprecedented.

February 26, 2013 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

In this case the form itself is equal to the subject. For Gance and for Napoleon, there are no small gestures.

April 3, 2012 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

... a cinematic experience like no other.

March 18, 2012 Full Review Source: Parallax View
Parallax View

Every bit as remarkable now as it was in its day.

November 15, 2007 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

the finest moments are the quieter ones that paint a more human picture of the adult Napoleon

March 2, 2007 Full Review Source: Old School Reviews
Old School Reviews

An extraordinary artifact from another culture, a mythology as remarkable and as alien as the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Icelandic Eddas.

February 11, 2006 Full Review Source: Decent Films Guide
Decent Films Guide

Fascinating, experimental, ahead of its time

August 22, 2002
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Abel Gance's visionary silent epic Napoleon is a dazzling display of cinematic virtuosity.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Audience Reviews for Napoléon

Modern film-goers are used to explication, to having everything explained for them. The art of visual story-telling -- where images and action indicate the emotional state of characters, rather than have the actor tell you how angry or sad or excited they are -- has almost been lost. But Napoleon is a masterpiece of visual art. (Writer-director Abel Gance was honored at the Telluride film festival a few years ago for this film. Far too late, in my opinion.)

The film tells the life of Napoleon Bonaparte -- the Corsican who adopts France as his homeland, rises to supreme general of the French armies during the Revolution and eventually seizes the seat of government itself (twice!). It starts out with a lengthy (if perhaps mythological) examination of Napoleon's childhood in a Catholic school. Snowball fights between Napoleon and two future foes portend the future. Napoleon's friendship with a pet eagle foreshadows his role as emperor of France. But even though these scenes represent more artistic license than history, they are tremendously well-acted by the young Vladimir Roudenko (as young Napoleon). Among the many innovations are some relatively naturalistic acting by the members of the cast and some jaw-dropping editing and montage sequences (especially during the brawl during the snowball fight and the fight in the sleeping quarters). Such innovative use of editing probably wouldn't be seen for another 30 or 40 years!

After almost an hour of this three-hour epic, we're transported to the period of the adult Napoleon -- acted with gravitas and iciness by Albert Dieudonne (who is among the cast's taller actors, just as Napoleon was in reality fairly tall, too). The film dwells extensively on the formative period when Napoleon first arrives in Paris during the late Revolution, focusing heavily on how the chaos in the city stamped into Napoleon the authoritarianism and dictatorial leadership traits that would emerge later in life. This is perhaps the highlight of the film. The editing and visual images create a swirling, spinning, mind-blowing effect that is extremely effective.

The film then focuses on Napoleon's return to Corisca -- whose people held allegiances to Spain and Italy as well as France, and where Napoleon faced imprisonment due to his French leanings. For anyone interested in learning more about the life of Napoleon, this segment is pretty eye-opening. It's followed by a sequence at sea that's amazingly effective in conveying the power and terror of a storm at sea. For its time, this film contained some powerful ocean footage (watch for those amazing low-angle shots, and the ingenious intercutting of the "angry storm" of the French assembly and Napoleon's tiny skiff tossed about on the stormy seas).

The final hour and a half of the film depicts Napoleon's rise in the army and his tenure as emperor of France. This is perhaps the portion of the film that most viewers would think of as "the story of Napoleon." But perhaps one of the reasons why this film is so fascinating is that it delves deeply into the formative episodes in Napoleon's early life and gives as much importance to them as to his later actions on the battlefield in Italy, his tenure as emperor, and his subsequent exile, return, and exile. And the film does so without being heavy-handed, un-subtle or overly expositive.

A restored version of "Napoleon" is making the rounds in the US in cinemas and on television. It contains a new musical soundtrack by Carmine Coppola, which is fairly good (although at times repetitive and too loud). The film was restored and re-edited by Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope studio. Zoetrope added some tinting (the ocean scenes are all blue, the "angry mob" scenes are all red) that is interesting but perhaps not quite the "restoration" some viewers might have had in mind.

Watch "Napoleon." You'll be very surprised at how modern the film is. Compared to other silent films of the 1920s, with the undercranked action, overly emotive acting, fantastic plots and theatrical make-up and costumes, "Napoleon" is years ahead of its time. Silent films require concentration to watch. "Napoleon" will surely keep your interest.
July 27, 2012
JonathanHutchings
Jonathan Hutchings

Super Reviewer

yes, it's a four hour silent epic on the life of napoleon. i guess i don't need to say it's not for everyone :) however if u have the time and the inclination and can find it, it's an amazing achievement. thrilling action scenes, stunning camera work using techniques that wouldn't be seen again for decades, and it helps if u enjoy history lol. i understand coppola is holding up the dvd release and that's a shame. this deserves a criterion!
October 6, 2008
rubystevens
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

    1. Napoleon Bonaparte: If you could understand the dream that fires my soul, you would all follow me!
    – Submitted by Matthew E (2 years ago)
View all quotes (1)

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