Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927) finally restored to the original version


One of the indisputable masterpieces of world cinema, Abel Gance’s Napoléon, has been restored over the last 16 years to its full length. It will be shown at Cannes and, later on Netflix (though the story doesn't clarify if it's only Netflix in France, or worldwide).

The 2024 Cannes Classics sidebar will open with a restored version of French filmmaker Abel Gance’s silent epic Napoléon.

A major work of the silent era, Napoléon has taken sixteen years to restore. The festival said today that “various sources were used to rediscover the original storyline” of the seven-hour feature, with reels found at the Cinémathèque française, the CNC, the Cinémathèque de Toulouse and the Cinémathèque de Corse, as well as in Denmark, Serbia, Italy, Luxembourg and New York.

Filmmaker and restoration expert Georges Mourier and his team worked frame-by-frame and reviewed nearly 100 kilometers of film. The festival said Gance’s original editing notes and correspondence with his editor, found at the BNF, “made it possible to re-edit the film in its original version.”

Celebrated by scholars for its technical and aesthetic innovations, Napoléon premiered at the Paris Opera on April 7, 1927, in the presence of French President Gaston Doumergue before embarking on a world tour. The film’s original reels were thereafter scattered across the globe, some lost or destroyed. The film was then recut — with 22 different versions known to date. Napoléon has not been shown in its original version, known as the “Grande Version,” since 1927.

The film runs across two parts. The first, with a running time of 3 hours and 40 minutes, will be presented as the pre-opening event at Cannes and as the opening film of Cannes Classics. The film will then be shown in its entirety with a live performance of the film score, with 250 musicians from Radio France at the Seine Musicale in Paris on July 4 and 5, as well as at the Radio France festival in Montpellier, and then at the Cinemathèque française. It will be released in French cinemas and shown on France Télévisions and Netflix, Cannes said today.