La Roue

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This article is about the 1923 film. For the district, see La Roue (Brussels). For the metro station in Brussels, see La Roue/Het Rad metro station.
La Roue
La roue.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed by Abel Gance
Produced by Abel Gance
Charles Pathé
Written by Abel Gance
Starring Severin-Mars
Ivy Close
Pierre Magnier
Music by Arthur Honegger
Robert Israel (2008)
Cinematography Léonce-Henri Burel
Gaston Brun
Marc Bujard
Maurice Duverger
Edited by Marguerite Beauge
Release date
17 February 1923
Running time
273 minutes
Country France
Language Silent
French intertitles

La Roue (pronounced: [la ʁu], "The Wheel") is a French silent film, directed by Abel Gance, who also directed Napoléon and J'accuse!. It was released in 1923. The film used then-revolutionary lighting techniques, and rapid scene changes and cuts.


Railroad engineer Sisif (Severin-Mars) rescues a small orphan, whose name he learns is Norma (Ivy Close), following a disastrous crash. He raises the little girl as his own, along with his son Elie (Gabriel de Gravone), whose mother died during his birth.

In time, Norma becomes a lively and playful young woman. Her greatest joy is time spent with Elie, by now a handsome violin maker, whom she believes to be her natural brother. But Sisif, to his own horror, finds himself falling in love with his adopted daughter. Sisif confesses to a partner, Hersan (Pierre Magnier), that he is preoccupied in an unhealthy way with Norma. Hersan threatens Sisif with blackmail if he does not consent to give Norma to him in marriage. Sisif reluctantly agrees with this arrangement, and himself drives the train that will deliver Norma to her husband. Distraught, he drives recklessly, and nearly wrecks the train.

An eye injury forces Sisif to abandon his trade, and he goes to work instead on the funicular at Mont Blanc. When Norma comes to vacation at Chamonix with her husband, she learns where Sisif and Elie live. Hersan finds out that Elie is also in love with Norma when he smashes a violin that was made by Elie. Inside is a love letter that only Hersan reads. A jealous Hersan fights with Elie on the mountain. Elie falls to his death, but not before mortally wounding Hersan. Sisif, enraged by Elie's death, blames Norma and drives her away. But she returns, and with Sisif's eyesight almost completely gone, manages to live undetected in his shack for a time. When he at last realizes she is there, they cling to one another, time and tragedy having restored the balance in their father-daughter relationship.

Sisif grows old, cared for by Norma. After sending her out to join in a local festivity, Sisif waits at the window, watching not with his eyes but with his mind. As Norma dances, Sisif dies.


Preservation status[edit]

The original version encompassed 32 reels, which ran for either seven and a half or nine hours (sources disagree). In 1924, Gance edited it down to two and a half hours for general distribution. A modern reconstruction from five different versions, available on DVD, is nearly four and a half hours long.[1]

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