Today we celebrate the life of actress, director and producer Marie-Louise Iribe on the anniversary of her untimely death at age 39. Marie-Louise starred in nearly 20 films, and is often credited as a pioneer of French cinema, but her name is not well-known.
In 1931, she directed, wrote and produced The Erl King, a film about a man trying to save the life of his child while death, characterized as the Erl King, torments him. It is a poetic fantasy film with a dreamlike atmosphere that Marie-Louise strengthens with her use of aesthetic overlays and ethereal fairy-like creatures that accompany the titular Erl King. Most notably, the sound design is an impressive feat for 1931, complementing the special effects and visual appeal of the film. In her review, Sophia Jin comments that “the piano accompaniment mimics the horse riding through the night, and each character has its own musical motif employed in the film. The most different motif is when the Erl King is talking. The key changes to a major key and the melody is more mischievous. When tenors sing it, they change the character in their voice to make it more evil and enticing. In the film, the Erl King sends his nymphs to dance and prance around the child as he tries to speed up the process of the child’s death.”
With The Erl King, Marie-Louise had an influential impact on the technical side of the French film industry. Although it was the only movie Marie-Louise made without a collaborator, she also co-directed Hara-Kiri in 1928, and The King of Alders in 1930.
Nicole Ackman’s article spotlighting the work of Marie-Louise Iribe provides background on the star, “Iribe was born in Paris on November 29, 1894. Her birth name was Pauline Marie-Louise Lavoisot, but when she became an actress she took Marie-Louise Iribe as her stage name. Iribe was the last name of her uncle, the illustrator and designer Paul Iribe who would later work on her most well-remembered film with her. She studied drama at the Conservatoire de Paris and pursued her dream of becoming an actress. She married André Roanne in 1921, but the pair soon divorced. In 1925, she married her second husband, Pierre Renoir, a fellow actor and the son of the Impressionist painter, Pierre-August Renoir. The couple separated in 1930, but their divorce was not finalized until 1933. Iribe began her acting career on stage and in silent film. In the 1910s and 1920s, she acted in almost twenty films and did both features and short films. She was part of projects from directors like René Le Somptier, Gaston Ravel, and Henri Fescourt. She was in two films by prominent director Louis Feuillade in 1914: Her Guilty Secret and At the Hour of Dawn.”
Nicole also shares insight on the treatment of women in a male-dominated film industry, “Iribe is just one example of the significant number of women who were at the top of the film industry in its early days. As sound films took over from silent movies, the industry became more structured and opportunities for women began to disappear in areas other than acting. Women like Mary Pickford, Alice Guy-Blaché, and Iribe were important to the development of film techniques and the industry itself, but have often been forgotten over time. Every year, when the Academy Awards release their nominations, a debate rises about their lack of nominations for female directors. The Erl King is definitely worth watching, if for no other reason than to remember that women have been directing films as long as the Academy Awards have existed.”
You can watch The Erl King on the Criterion Channel today!
© Anna Nappi (4/12/22) Special for FF2 Media.
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read the rest of Nicole’s article on Marie-Louise Iribe as a pioneer of French cinema.
Check out Sophia’s full review of The Erl King.
Watch The Erl King on the Criterion Channel.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: Jean Angelo, Henri Debain, and Marie-Louise Iribe in Marquitta. Les Artistes Réunis.