We all have problems in our lives, and in our relationships. But what if the one you love literally lives on a different planet? This is the problem facing the couple in Matrimonio Interplanetario, a charming Italian short film in the Méliès mould.
She’s a daughter of Mars; he’s a human astronomer who spends his time peering through his telescope (here it is the women who are from Mars). How can they be together? Maybe, just maybe, technology will come to the rescue …
The film opens with Aldovin exploring the surface of Mars via his telescope: we see that it is picturesquely sculptured, and that mushrooms are plentiful.
But not, however, as interesting as what he spies in zooming in on a Martian settlement!
Not only is there life on Mars, it’s life that Aldovin finds very attractive – he is instantly head-over-heels for the Martian Yala. Yala and her father Fur, a Martian astronomer, look back through their telescope, and Yala too is very taken with Aldovin. Aldovin gets very excited and gesticulates wildly, calling on his polka-dotted friend to share his discovery and joy.
Luckily, there is a wireless service between Earth and Mars (the office is helpfully titled in both Italian, French, German, and English; director Enrico Novelli evidently produced the film with an eye to the export market). The visual effect used to represent the transmission is fantastic:
Aldovin receives back a message from Fur: “If you want to marry my daughter, come in a year to the moon.” So he busies himself building a cannon-propelled rocket in which he will journey to Luna. On Mars, Fur and his daughter also make preparations.
Eventually, the two meet on the moon! Things are briefly fraught when some moon-monsters surround them, but Aldovin scares them off and the two enter wedded life; a bunch of moon-dancers celebrate with them.
Matrimonio interplanetario is considered to be the first Italian science fiction film. Indeed, there was not a strong science fiction tradition in Italian silent cinema – L’uomo meccanico | The Mechanical Man (1921), directed by André Deed (a.k.a. Cretinetti) is the main title that comes to mind for me. According to Paolo Bertetti, writing on the website Fantascienza, Matrimonio Interplanetario is one of a very few Italian films of this era dealing with the topic of space travel. Bertetti also mentions a series of films produced for Cines in Rome by French director Gaston Velle, which included Viaggio a una Stella | Voyage to a Star (1906), a remake/self-plagiarism of his film Voyage autour d’une étoile of the same year. The only other known silent Italian space travel film is Un viaggio nella luna | A Trip to the Moon of 1921, a now-lost animated film produced by Lilliput-Film of Rome. The describe of the latter film (quoted by Bertetti), sounds tantalizing:
Twinkling stars are at times furrowed by deep blue from the rapid passage of distant fiery planets rolling over the infinite ether. Saturn, the Andromeda and Orion nebulas, all of the constellations, pass over the screen in a beautiful series.
But back to the film at hand: Matrimonio interplanetario is clearly much influenced by Méliès – the production design is very reminiscent of his classic space films Le voyage dans la lune (FR 1902) and Le voyage à travers l’impossible (FR 1904); the films of Segundo De Chomón, Ferdinand Zecca, and Gaston Velle are also reference points. See the appearance of Aldovin’s spaceship:
Matrimonio Interplanetario was directed by Enrico Novelli (pseudonym: Yambo), who two years earlier had published a science fiction novel, La colonia lunare | the Lunar Colony, which was a source of inspiration for this film. For those who read Italian, scholar Denis Lotti of the University of Padua has written an essay that explores the relationship between this book and the film, particularly the chapter I promessi sposi lunari | The Lunar Betrothal. An interesting point that Lotti makes is, that while Interplanetario matrimonio is far from being a Futurist work, some aspects of the film can be connected to the concepts idealized by the Futurists; he mentions the alphabet animation of the wireless transmission in relation to the Futurists’ ideas about the deconstruction of language.
It’s a landmark in Italian silent film history as well as an endearing film in which love conquers distance. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
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Matrimonio interplanetario [UK: A Marriage in the Moon]. Dir. Yambo [Enrico Novelli]. Rome, Italy: Latium-Film, 1910. This film is preserved by the Cineteca del Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, Italy, and is available to view here on their Vimeo channel.