A French and German coproduction based on the 1891 novel by Émile Zola, L'Argent tells the story of Saccard, a financier who plans to boost the price of his faltering stock by enlisting the aviator Hamelin in a publicity stunt involving flying across the Atlantic to drill for oil. When Saccard attempts to seduce Hamelin's wife, she realizes that the tycoon is not what he seems and exposes him to the financial world as a fraud. The film theorist Noël Burch declared L'Argent the first film "to systematically use camera movement to establish the basic rhythm of the film's découpage, thereby anticipating by twenty years [Orson] Welles's and [Michelangelo] Antonioni's film styles at their most sophisticated." In addition to constantly shifting the camera's point of view, director Marcel L'Herbier used enormous sets to dwarf his characters, whose crazed pursuit of money is made to seem inconsequential by comparison. Once derided as merely an overlong and expensive failure (at its premiere it ran to nearly three hours), L'Argent is now viewed by film critics and historians as perhaps the finest synthesis of the avant–garde and commercial cinema ever produced.
Publication excerpt from In Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of the Museum of Modern Art by Steven Higgins, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006, p. 136.