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Celebrating Poland's First Screen Goddess: Pola Negri Film to Screen in Paris on September 12

A long lost film starring Polish-born silent film star Pola Negri will be screened in Paris on September 12 at the Balzac Cinema as part of the International Cultural Programme of the current Polish EU Presidency.

Produced by the prodigious UFA studios in Germany in 1918 and directed by Hungarian Eugen Illes, the film “Mania: A History of Workers in a Cigarette Factory” (“Die Geschichte einer Zigarettenarbeiterin”) was long thought to be lost. However, in 2006 the Polish National Film Archive purchased a print from a Czech collector and undertook a project to digitally restore the film using the latest 4K technology. The film will presented with live musical accompaniment by the Leopoldinum Chamber Orchestra of Wrocław, conducted by composer Jerzy Maksymiuk who wrote the score especially for the project.

A classic melodrama about passion, the arts and personal sacrifice, the film's heroine, Mania, is a cigarette factory worker. Her lover Hans is a talented composer. When Mania's beauty and charm attract the attention of Morelli, a patron of the arts, he promises to produce Hans' new opera in exchange for Mania becoming his mistress. She chooses to do whatever it takes to make her true love's dream come true, and tragic consequences ensue.

Pola Negri was born Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec in Lipno, in what was then part of Russian controlled Poland. The youngest of three children, both of her older siblings died young, and she grew up as an only child. After her father Jerzy Chałupiec was arrested by the Russian authorities for revolutionary political activities and sent to Siberia, she and her mother (née Eleonora Kiełczewska) moved to Warsaw, where they lived in extreme poverty.

While still in her teens, Chałupiec was accepted into the Imperial Ballet of Warsaw, and began training at the ballet academy. She subsequently worked her way up in the company and became a principal dancer, appearing in many productions. However, a bout with tuberculosis forced her to abandon her burgeoning dancing career. During her time at a sanatorium where she was sent to recover, Chałupiec adopted the pseudonym Pola Negri, after the Italian novelist and poetess Ada Negri, with Pola being being an abbreviation of Apolonia.

Returning to Warsaw, she enrolled at the Academy of Dramatic Arts to study acting, making her stage debut in 1913 and her first film the following year. She became a star in Poland, which brought her to the attention of German director Max Reinhardt, who invited her to Berlin to perform in several theatrical productions and films. This subsequently led to her collaboration with director Ernst Lubitsch on a series of successful films which included “The Eyes of the Mummy" (1918), “The Mountain Cat” (1921) and “Sumurun” (1920).

Offers from Hollywood soon followed. Negri moved to the United States in 1923 (Lubitsch having already emigrated in late 1922) and quickly established herself as a leading actress in silent cinema, appearing with many of the most popular stars of the day, while her personal life included affairs with Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino, among others. With the advent of the sound era, she returned to Europe and enjoyed further career success in Germany in the 1930s. She returned to the United States in 1941 and continued to appear in films into the 1960s. She died in San Antonio, Texas in 1987.

In recent years, Negri has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance, having been rediscovered by both cinema fans and critics alike. In April 2010, the Cinémathèque Française honored her with a retrospective as part of its series "Tournages:
Berlin-Paris-Hollywood", and in her native Poland a biographical musical is in the works, which will star popular Polish actress and dancer Natasha Urbanska in the lead role.

“Mania” will also be presented in Madrid on September 29, London on October 13, Kiev on October 29 and Berlin on November 8.
 
 
 

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