Lucrezia Borgia (1935) Poster

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Lucrèce Borgia
ackstasis7 July 2011
Incredibly, 'Lucrèce Borgia (1935)' is my first film from Abel Gance, one of the titans of early French cinema, though this is far from his best-known work. The film is a chronicle of the House of Borgia, a reigning family that remains notorious for their corruption and sexual debasement. I've had to do some reading up, so apologies to any history buffs if I get my details wrong. There are four main characters in this sordid tale. Pope Alexander VI (Roger Karl) is incompetent and blind to the misdeeds of his family – though historians generally portray him as being far more depraved than he is depicted here. Giovanni (Maurice Escande) is the pope's elder son, and a bit of an extravagant fop. César (Gabriel Gabrio) is a lusty, bloodthirsty monster under the advisement of Niccolò Machiavelli. Sister Lucrezia (Edwige Feuillère) is a promiscuous woman whose lovers have the unfortunate habit of being quickly murdered by the jealous, scheming César. All in all, probably not the sort of people you'd invite to a friendly game of neighbourhood charades. There are some confronting scenes in here, especially compared to the 1930s films to which one is accustomed. Confrontations are seen to draw blood, and exploited women are stripped of their clothes. There is a rather graphic recreation of the Banquet of Chestnuts, which took place on October 30, 1501, at which César (and possibly Pope Alexander VI) treated his guests to the services of 50 prostitutes.
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Only a pawn in their game.
dbdumonteil12 November 2007
"Lucrece Borgia" is not among Gance's finest works.The beginning looks like a relic from the silent era ,with its interminable depiction of the abominable Cesar Borgia,complete with orgies (one of Gance's recurrent features;these ones are rather tame and timid compare to the ones you can watch in "La Fin du Monde" (1930)) ,rapes and drinking sessions.Oddly Juan Borgia and Lucrece are not given that much time.The highlight ,so to speak,is nevertheless Lucrece's bath for we can see her almost completely naked ,which was exceptional in the French cinema of the thirties.Christian-Jaque's own "Lucrece Borgia" starring Martine Carol,was not an improvement on it twenty years later for that matter.

The legend has made Lucrece a scandalous hussy.Historians generally disagree ,and the ending of the film is faithful to what you find in her entry in encyclopedias: a patron who used to like music,poetry and arts.For that matter ,it's historically accurate: a pawn in her brother's and her father's games,they used her to ally themselves with dangerous enemies.

It is a relatively short movie and I wonder if the current version is complete: the scene when Cesar shows Lucrece her so called lovers' graves is totally irrelevant ,for the life she leads in the film is rather chaste (the extramarital life of course).

Gance's best talkies were still to come in 1935: "Un Grand Amour de Beethoven" "J'Accuse" (brilliant remake of the silent work) "Paradis Perdu" "Venus Aveugle" and "Le Capitaine Fracasse".
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A very good film, but only for a small and very select audience,...others will probably not be very impressed.
MartinHafer23 August 2006
This is not a bad film, but for several reasons the average viewer might be either bored by the whole thing or put off by its surprising amount of nudity--an oddity for 1935 (and which resulting in its being banned in several countries when it was first released). As you can guess, it's not a great film for the kiddies since it's pretty explicit. However, it also is very hard to follow for someone not well-versed in late 15th century Italian history. While I am NOT an elitist snob, I could follow it pretty well since I am a history teacher and am pretty familiar with the Borgia family--definitely placing me in the minority!! As far as its value in telling about the awful Borgia family, the film is definitely a mixed bag. I've read books written by both anti-Borgia contemporaries AND pro-Borgias--and both give a very different slant on the family. But, a few things that both sides would agree on is that they were certainly NOT the Cleavers!!

The patriarch became Pope Alexander VI--no small feat as he had already produced three bastards that he publicly acknowledged!! His sexual prowess and greed for power is pretty much accepted fact by both sides.

His son Cesare, though DEFINITELY a conniving and power-hungry snake (even his FANS acknowledged this--Macchiavelli actually admired him for these personality traits!), seemed almost comical in how bad he was in the movie--claiming that he murdered and raped practically everyone in sight (including killing his brother and his sister's husbands--murdered, that is, not raped in these cases). All this COULD be true, but unfortunately, history doesn't really confirm these most salacious behaviors--but it sure makes for a sleazy and interesting movie!!! So, it might be a lot of exaggeration (and I am sure the way he raped every woman in sight like he did in the movie is a huge exaggeration--he probably would have died a lot sooner out of sheer exhaustion), but it makes for pretty compelling viewing!

As for Lucretia, the film actually takes a much more sympathetic view. Again, some contemporary historians described her as practically the bride of Satan while others painted her as an innocent woman stuck with two rather power-mad brothers and a terrible father. The movie chose to show her as a victim of evil Cesare--unaware that lover after lover were killed by him. The film also seemed to STRONGLY imply that this might have been the result of unrequited incestuous feelings by Cesare for his sister (yuck)! Pretty racy stuff,...along with the nude scenes of Lucretia!

Oddly, the film took a rather non-committal look at Alexander VI. In reality he was a vile and conniving pervert (who can deny this? It's fact according to every sane historian), he was shown as a very passive pawn of Cesare! Considering he became Pope and constantly grabbed for more and more gold and power during his reign, this isn't a very accurate portrayal.

Okay, the boring historical stuff aside, what we have is a sexually charged historical epic of questionable accuracy that is still fun to watch in a "DALLAS" or "GENERAL HOSPITAL" sort of way. Not exactly high art like director Gance's great epic NAPOLEON, but still pretty watchable.
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Big budget history movie of specialized interest only
psteier15 July 2001
Episodes from the life of Lucrecia Borgia's. Spoiled and willful, she has many love affairs and tries to resist her ruthless and scheming brother César Borgia's plans to marry her off for political advantage.

Episodic and hard to follow to those not familiar with Italian geography and with the political situation of the time. Nice sets and costumes but the 16 millimeter print I saw did not show them well.

The kind of movie the French New Wave rebelled against.
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Lucrezia Borgia review
JoeytheBrit20 April 2020
The intrigues and betrayals of the notorious family. A surprisingly risqué offering from legendary French director Abel Gance, featuring nudity, orgies and serving wenches getting knifed in the back. The plot is something of a challenge, and feels a little rushed at times - it could have done with another hour or so to deliver the kind of detail that's lacking.
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Beautiful Film but Difficult to Follow
BrightVibes19 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I just watched the DVD of this, which said it was 2 hours and 4 minutes. And I had to search to find the function to turn on the subtitles, the DVD didn't automatically do that.

I have watched the Borgia mini-series, and two movies. So I am familiar with the story line. If I did not have that background, it would have been difficult to follow the story line of this 1935 film. But I don't think it is the fault of the filmmaker - I think there is a difference in the way people watch movies in 2013. It is just difficult to watch the type of film from that era. Add on to that it is a French film (when I am in the USA) and that adds a different type of difficulty. To me watching this movie, was almost studying it - because the time period and culture of the actual film itself.

***Spoilers Below *** All in all, I thought it was a beautiful film. Just the way some of the long shots were filmed. The scene of the women bathing was beautiful and artistic.

I had seen the comments about the orgies and nudity in the film. But I figured since it was made in 1935 it would be pretty mild. No, the nudity and orgies are pretty blatant in this. There is not a lot left to the imagination. I was actually pretty shocked. One expects this in modern day films, but to see it in a classic movie like this is very unexpected. I could also have thought this because Cesar was portrayed as a really vicious evil man (which he was). But in other movies I have watched he was somewhat romanticized, which soften his evil character. In this film he was made to look as a horrible terrible brute.
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