(Un raggio di sole)
[Henri Gambart] (FR 1912)

A warm sunny day. Encouraged by his affectionate family, an arthritic old man goes out for a wheelchair ride, in the care of an undependable attendant. Coming across a friend, the attendant unthinkingly “parks” his charge by a bench and saunters cheerfully into a bistro, where he and his friend naturally make good use of the bottles of wine on offer.
Left alone, the old man – until then immobile and reacting to very little – is unexpectedly brought to life by his exposure to the sun, and especially by his vicinity to an unknown beauty who has chosen the nearby bench to sit down for a spot of reading. Such is the effect of this combination of pleasurable stimuli that all the man’s aches and pains go away; getting up from his wheelchair and sitting next to the girl, he rediscovers his gallantry, chatting her up with no little vigour and apparently making some progress. On the journey home the initial roles are reversed: standing firm on his own two feet, the former invalid pushes the wheelchair on which his alleged carer now slumps, blind drunk. This at least is the story told by the only copies of the film listed as existing by FIAF: the CNC restoration and the 28mm version from which the digital copy presented at this year’s Giornate was made.
The screenplay conserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, however, besides providing valuable confirmation of the film’s date and directorial attribution to Henri Gambart, reveals an interesting backstory. In the first draft the old man’s almost miraculous recovery was due – apart from the sun and feminine beauty – above all to a glass of watered-down rum brought out to him by a waiter at the request of his revelling chair-pusher. An alcoholic order made in response to a comment by the old man when he was offered a plain glass of water, which he deemed “tasteless”. That this scene was not only written but filmed, and that the decision to excise it (if it was a deliberate choice) came about during the editing process, is proved by a careful observation of the version of the film that has survived. In this it may be seen that in the sequence following the scene inside the bistro, before the pretty girl sits on the bench near him, the old invalid wipes his moustache, suddenly visibly alert and clearly pleased with whatever happened in the preceding frames.
As to why the copies available to us deny the protagonist his revitalizing rum, we can only speculate. The most probable explanation is that, despite the jocular tone of the story, the celebration of alcohol as a magic cure for the ills of old age was judged to be morally questionable. If in the first version the ending turned on the contrast between the opposite effects of alcohol on the two men, in the copy presented here the closing moral is perhaps less comical but more poetic (and morally unexceptionable): to enjoy life to the full, all you need is the kindness of a pretty girl and a ray of sunshine.

Stella Dagna

regia/dir: [Henri Gambart].
prod: Pathé Frères.
copia/copy: DCP, 5’23” (da/from 28mm, 71 m., 18 fps); didascalie mancanti/intertitles missing.
fonte/source: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino; Cinémathèque de Toulouse; Cinémathèque de Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Limoges.