Herr Werther, a new magistrate to the Grand Duchy of Walheim who is a violinist and poet, seems to have fate on his side as he meets and pursues a beautiful local woman, Charlotte. But as ...
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Herr Werther, a new magistrate to the Grand Duchy of Walheim who is a violinist and poet, seems to have fate on his side as he meets and pursues a beautiful local woman, Charlotte. But as Werther sets to propose marriage, Charlotte reluctantly tells him she has been promised to another, Werther's superior, Judge Hochstätten. Werther and Charlotte decide to keep their romance from the judge and each descends into depression. Will they be able to keep their feelings a secret?
A high-strung over-sentimental classic novel admirably transformed into cinematic realism with aesthetic expertise
Already here in 1938 Max Ophuls proves himself the master of romantic aestheticism in a deeply moving and fascinating rendering of one of the most classic of all novels and the most deplorable of love stories, but the fact that it couldn't have ended worse is treated with expert sense of good taste. Although everybody knows the story and how it must end in suicide, Ophuls still makes it come as a surprise, and it is marvelously illustrated without showing it. Also the actors make a splendid job of the performances and couldn't have been better, although none of them is known or remembered today. You can well imagine Danielle Darrieux and Gerard Philippe in the same roles not doing any better (or worse). Also the music is excellently suited and not allowed to dominate too much - the use of the church bells and their melody quite triggers the story. Max Ophuls has simply succeeded in translating a novel of letters into a qualified drama without making it theatrical - it is perfectly organic all the way and runs with smooth efficiency, constantly accelerating the tension and the drama from ideal idylls in the beginning to gradually growing into dead serious business. It was a delight to see Goethe so successfully adapted for the screen - I would believe him to have been the most difficult of authors to undergo that treatment with any success.
Especially fascinating is the cinematic technique and innovative tricks that Ophuls uses to add life and interest to his film. It is throughout very atmospherical, the moods of the novel are faithfully transported to the screen, and above all the film is marked by Ophuils' famous obsession with details, which no one could use to enhance the quality of a film better than he. The greatest joy of seeing this film was actually to be able to recognize all the familiar tricks and styles of this one of the greatest of all cinema masters as early as 1938.
It has been pointed out, that it's a French film made on a German novel in the year before the apocalypse of Germany and the second world war. He had made many films in Germany previously but henceforward moved to France - and the war and its circumstances caused him a time out for seven years - to then return i full bloom with all his major masterworks.
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