Rhode Island International Film Festival Review: Silent Life: The Story of the Lady in Black is an Expressive Dramatization of Rudolph Valentino’s Legacy

Rhode Island International Film Festival Review: Silent Life: The Story of the Lady in Black is an Expressive Dramatization of Rudolph Valentino’s Legacy

Many legendary Hollywood icons often become and remain famous because they willingly fight any obstacle that challenges their dream, and embrace the decadence and excess that accompanies it. Celebrated Italian-American actor Rudolph Valentino not only did just that as he pursued his film career in the mid-1910s-mid-1920s.

Valentino’s most loyal female fan remained committed to celebrating his determination to remain a celebrated Hollywood star for decades after his death. The woman’s dedication to the first Hollywood superstar and male sex symbol is highlighted in the new biographical drama, Silent Life: The Story of the Lady in Black.

The movie was directed and produced by Vladislav Alex Kozlov under his Dreamer Pictures banner. He also wrote the film’s script with Ksenia Jarova and Natalia Dar, and served as one of the feature’s cinematographers and editors.

Silent Life serves as a follow-up to Kozlov’s 17-minute silent short film, Daydreams of Rudolph Valentino. The filmmaker released the short in 2007 with the support of Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where Valentino is buried. Kozlov played Valentino in the feature, as the helmer was inspired his likeness to the silent screen star, as well as his passionate love of classic Hollywood cinema.

Silent Life tells the story of the mystery surrounding the death of Valentino, who starred in such well-known silent movies as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, Blood and Sand and The Eagle. The actor, who was known as The Latin Lover, died in 1926 at the age of 31 in the Hollywood apartment of the mysterious Lady in Black, who claims to be his last love.

The titular character continues to pay tribute to Rudolph by visiting his grave every year on the anniversary of his death with a single red rose. Ambitious young filmmaker Paul Harts (Jeff DuJardin) is determined to be the one who finally uncovers and reveals the identity of the Lady in Black’s (Oscar nominee Terry Moore, one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood) on camera.

Paul hopes to do so by forming an acquaintance with the eponymous character when they first meet at The Latin Lover’s grave in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The Lady in Black, who states that her name is Helen Koford, recounts that she met Rudolph while he pondered the most important philosophical questions of human existence on his hospital death bed in 1926.

Helen cared for the actor during the end of his life while she was a young nurse in New York City. She felt her connection to Rudolph during their short time together was so strong that she remained committed to honoring his memory anonymously throughout the rest of her life – until now, as she contemplates her own mortality.

Driven by an overall charming blend of modern sentiment and classic romanticism, Silent Life thrives on its homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood in modern society. Moore’s performance pays a compelling tribute to how contemporary culture idolizes the elegance of such silent film stars as Valentino, as the role of the Lady in Black parallels her own life and career as an actress in Hollywood.

In her final on-screen performance before her retirement from acting, Moore perfectly paces how Helen recounts her interactions with Rudolph during her conversations with Paul. The actress’ emotional approach to her character’s movements and recollections during her memorial to her love from her early adulthood infuse the seemingly mysterious Lady in Black with underlying layer of earnest sentiment.

Besides Moore’s passionate, soulful portrayal of the titular character, the drama is also driven by its grandiose visuals. Besides the stellar performances by the feature’s cast, notably Moore as well as Kozlov, the latter further showcases Valentino’s career through dramatic footage from his movie roles.

That footage is most intriguingly used in one instance when Helen narrates her encounters with Rudolph, and the film cuts away to his emergence as a young aspiring actor. Through expert editing, Silent Life then cuts to Kozlov assuming the role of Rudolph as he’s sitting alone in a movie theater, watching his life’s story play out on the screen before him. The actor looks almost identical to The Latin Lover through the wardrobe and makeup that capture the style of the era, which add an extra sense of authenticity to the drama.

In addition to Kozlov’s identical look to Valentino, Silent Life‘s costume design team – which includes Mildred Brignoni, Emilyna Cullen, Nazhat Hester, Rhona Meyers and Jessica Wenger – created a dignified, refined look for the Lady in Black’s outfits as she meets with Paul. From a classic black dress with a hood and matching black gloves, which are paired with two strands of sophisticated pearls, Moore captures the look of  a women who has been in mourning for the love she lost multiple decades ago.

The movie, which was shot in Santa Clarita, also features enthralling production design from Natalia Dar and Regina O’Brien that brilliantly captures the essence of the different time periods. From the theaters that showcased Rudolph’s work, to the room where Helen cared for him at the end of his life and his final resting place at Hollywood Forever Cemetery that she visited every year, the production design team infused each setting with authentic details.

Silent Life is a visually and emotionally stunning tribute to the long-lasting memories of the successes of Hollywood’s Golden Age. From Moore’s elegant final on-screen performance to graceful wardrobe and makeup, luxurious production design and expert editing techniques, the feature perfectly captures the decadence and sentiment that surrounds the first few generations of Hollywood filmmaking.

Silent Life: The Story of the Lady in Black screened at the Providence Place Showcase Cinema de Lux 16 & IMAX last week during the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

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