During the making of an inventory of Henri Langlois' filmarchives at the Cinémathéque Française in 1983, a set of 23 reels of unedited negative footage was found. It was footage for Andre Antoine 's penultimate film, The Swallow and the Titmouse (1920). a film which was never completed as a result of producer Pathé 's reluctance to release what he called 'a documentary' film. The famous Swiss film editor Henri Colpi set to work to restore and finish this remarkable film. Guided by Gustave Grillet 's script and helped by historian Philippe Esnault, he set out for a boat trip along the Scheldt from Antwerp to Lille in order to identify the locations of the film. But so many places had irrecognizably changed that Colpi had to leave a lot of footage unidentified.
The Swallow and the Titmouse, succesfully presented during the 1985 Ghent festival, tells the story of Pierre Van Groot, a Flemish skipper who transports coal and raw materials between Antwerp and France with his twin ships « The Swallow » and « The Titmouse ». But apart from this, Van Groot also smuggles diamonds. His boatsman Michel Beneden, who seems to be on good terms both with Van Groot 's wife Griet and her sister Marthe, finds out about the hidden shipload. After having Van Groot drink a good deal, he goes to the boat and tries to steal the diamonds. But Van Groot, who had been warned by bis wife that Michel had tried to seduce her, follows him and kills him after a fight. The corpse is hidden and the boats carry on their trip into France.
It is not the script that makes The Swallow ... so remarkable. It is the film's realistic style, both in the acting and in the settings, that makes Antoine's film an exception in the French film of the twenties. All shooting was done on location and many scenes were shot by more than one camera at the same time. Most intertitles were edited by Antoine himself.
Antoine never saw his film: Pathé put the rushes into a box, where they were to stay until 1983. For Colpi, editing this film was a challenge: Antoine had not strictly followed the script and many locations can no longer be identified. Yet, Colpi did an excellent job. His version of The Swallow ... is the best possible tribute to one of France 's finest filmmakers of the early decades of cinema.
Henri Colpi, Gustave Grillet
René Guychard, Léonce-Henri Burel