• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

    Judith et Holopherne (1909)

    Often known as Judith (1910) in the UK or Judith Retterin Israels (D)
    I'm unsure how many prints of this film still exist. Certainly the BFI archive lists only one and silentera.com are unsure as to whether the film is still in existence. The intertitles are in German, and are fairly lengthy - perhaps around 200-250 words across five cards, which constitutes a significant part of the reel's 8 minute running time, although the film's ending is missing.

    It turns out that the intertitles are one of the more notable parts of the film so I'll reproduce the wording (in German) and offer a basic translation as I go through. The opening title card places the story in its historical context dating it as the 13th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, details the siege of Bethulia and the drying up of the cistern and notes that Judith is the widow of Manesseh.
    Im dreizehnten Jahre der Regierung des gewaltigen Königs Nebukadnezar entbrann - te sein Zorn gegen die Judäer und sein sieggewohnter Feldherr Holophernes lag mit grosser Heeresmacht vor Bethulia, einer ihrer Stadte. Und es kam der Tag, an dern das Wasser in den Cysternen versiegte und das verzagte Volk bestürmte Osias, den Fürsten, die Stadt den Assyrern auszuliefern. Da entschloss sich Judith, die Witwe des Menasse, die Retting der Kinder Israels zu wagen.

    In the thirteenth year of the reign of the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar his anger was kindled against Judah and his victorious commander Holofernes was lying in wait with a large army against Bethulia, one of its cities. And there came the day when the water dried up in the countries cistern and despondent people violently protested to Osias, the prince to surrender the city to the Assyrians. So Judith, widow of Manasseh, decided to dare (attempt) the salvation of the children of Israel.
    The opening scene is of the marketplace in Bethulia before a cut to Judith's house and a visit of the town's leaders, before the second intertitle.
    Und sie legte ihre Witwenkleider ab, salbte sich mit köstlichem Wasser, fiel auf die Knie und betete zu Gott. Dann begab sie sich begleitet von einer Dienerin ins feindliche Heerlager, wo sie angab eine entflohene Hebräerin zu sein

    And she took off her widow's garments, anointed with precious ointment, dropped to her knees and prayed to God. Then she went accompanied by a servant into the enemy camp, where she claimed to be an escaped Hebrew.
    We see Judith getting prepared, having her nails done by two servants and appearing in the marketplace. We're never quite told how Judith ends up in the presence of Holofernes, but the next intertitle, and scene, takes place in the Assyrian camp.
    Und sie wurde vor das Angesicht des Holofernes geführt. Derselbe sah ihre Schönheit und entbrannte in Liebe zu ihr. Da gewährte er ihr eine Zufluchtsstätte in seinem Zelte und zwar an dem Orte, wo er seine Schätze bewahrte.

    And she was led into the presence of Holofernes. The same saw her beauty and fell in love with her. Then he gave her a refuge in his tent, and that in the place where he kept his treasures.
    Judith goes straight in and bows, and her and Holofernes chat. Yet again the girls present prior to this are hastily sent away. Eventually Judith leaves.
    Am vierten Tage machte Holofernes ein Festmahl allen seinen nächsten Dienern. und er befahl, dass das hebräische Weib zu ihm komme. Und sie weigerte sich nicht, denn jetzt hielt sie den von Gott gegebenen Augenblick gekommen, ihr bedrängtes Volk zu retten.

    ...Und in der Stille der Nacht schlug sie dem trunkenden Feldherrn das Haupt ab mit seinem eigenen Schwerte.

    On the fourth day Holofernes held his next feast for all his servants. And he ordered that the Hebrew woman to come to him. And she refused, because the God-given moment had not arrived for her to save their beleaguered people.

    ...And in the dead of night she hit the commander's neck with his own sword.
    This lengthy intertitle rather spoils the climax for anyone unfamiliar with the story and dissipates any sense of dramatic tension. Holofernes holds another banquet where Judith pretends to drink whilst Holofernes pours his wine down his throat. Then she cunningly and seductively pours her drink down his throat as well. The courtiers leave and the next shot is in Holofernes bedroom, with Holofernes asleep on the bed. Judith prays briefly before hacking off Holofernes' head in what is, nevertheless, a nicely composed shot (pictured above). The final intertitle again explains what is about to happen.
    Und sie verliess mit dem verhüllten Haupte des Holophernes ungehindert das Kriegslager, begleitet von ihrer Dienerin, und sie erreichte Bethulia. Hier war der Jubel gross. Das assyrische Heer aber, als es seinen Feldherrn erschlagen sah, entfloh. Die Kinder Israels waren gerettet. Judith aber ward hochgeehrt im ganzen Lande.

    And she left the war camp unhindered with the veiled head of Holofernes, accompanied by her maid, and she reached Bethulia. Here, the jubilation was great. But the Assyrian army fled when they saw their commander killed. The children of Israel were saved. And Judith was highly respected throughout the country.
    There's a brief scene from Bethulia - looking out off the balcony, before the end is cut off rather abruptly. There's no scene of Judith being honoured by her people as the final intertitle anticipates.

    Sadly it's a fairly dull interpretation on the story, although the scenes with just Judith and Holofernes are well, er, executed.

    The BFI describes the film as follows:
    DRAMA. Historical. The Apocryphal story of Judith and Holofernes. The Israelites, besieged in Bethulia, beg their leader to hand over the town to the Assyrian commander, Holofernes, but one of their number, the widow Judith, decides on an alternative plan. She goes to the camp of Holofernes, who becomes enamoured of her. After a feast at which he gets a drunk, she escorts him to his bedchamber and there chops off his head with his own sword. The besieged Israelites await her return...(770ft). Incomplete. Note: This film employs the same sets as Gaumont's Le FESTIN DE BALTHAZAR (1910).
    The notes for the second Ancient World in Silent Cinema event reproduce this text, but also credit the director as Louis Feuillade, date the film as 1909 instead and give its length as 8 minutes.

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