Before getting into a review of DER WEG INS FREIE ("Way towards freedom" in its verbatim translation but sometimes titled THE WAY IN THE OPEN AIR), let me say something about the leading star. This Ufa production is released on DVD not due to any of its historical significance but because of Zarah Leander.
Born Zarah Stina Hedberg in Sweden, she was the major star, the major femme fatale, the captivating singer, the model of 'modern woman' at the German Ufa Studios. Therefore, the observation that Marlene Dietrich's achievements in Hollywood may compete with Zarah's ones in Germany does not occur baseless. In spite of a considerably short time span of her career (1936-1943) or accusations of some political affiliations hostile to the regime in power then, no one could resist Leander's appeal. Although Goebbels referred to her as "Enemy of Germany," regime propaganda could not ban the indisputably powerful model of female characters she created. One of such films is DER WEG INS FREIE, where she does not only sing but also evokes the excessive splendor of costumes and displays the wide range of emotional acting capabilities. We can say that the film was made at the peak of Zarah's career at Ufa under the direction of Rolf Hansen whom she had already known as an assistant director of Carl Froehlich she had collaborated with.
Supposedly, the film, to a great extent, captures the uniqueness of an artistic personality and the conflicts of both the inner and the outer worlds: the inner ones are the pains towards inspirations, the outer ones are the pains of being misunderstood. Note that the characters of the movie (except for the artist who stands in the lead ... alone) belong to two locations: the first is the Vienna of Chancellor Metternich (1813-1848) with restricted freedom and intensely monarchical but still the great as the city of music and glamorous life with vast possibilities; the second is the Prussian mansion at Pommern in the midst of folk customs and village-like atmosphere, idyllic simplicity where we hear cocks crowing in background. The artist is alone, she is within her world but, consequently, as the dilemmas grow, she resorts to mute suffering. In the opening scene, this 'different world' the artist lives in is nicely over-toned. Yet, what is noteworthy is the context, the two operas used as a clever conceit to frame the plot: first, Rossini's SEMIRAMIDE the importance of which was accurately referred to by the musicologist Rodolfo Celleti who saw it as the "last opera of the great Baroque tradition: the most beautiful, the most imaginative, possibly the most complete" (here, the heroine's world is beautiful but extinct); second, Verdi's RIGOLETTO where the tragic story and sacrificial decision is clearly echoed in the movie's leading character. And, as viewers dwell in emotional resonance of artist's stage performance, they soon realize that the reality is waiting in the wings earthly reality intensely affected by the artistic one but the sequence is supplied with doomed anticipation of events. Meanwhile, Rigoletto's Gilda becomes our heroine, Antonia (Zarah Leander).
Leander's character, clever at wit and charm so expected of the woman of her rank, is influenced by choice, or to be more dramatic, dilemmas. As an Italian singer, she remains neutral on the scale of discrepancies between Austria and Prussia but, by embodying the inner conflicts, marriage vs. career clash within her. The 'socially' and 'morally' right way of family life with her husband, the Prussian officer Detlev Von Blossin (played marvelously by ) struggles with 'individually' desirable way of being 'the most beautiful and the most applauded woman.' To make things worse, another man appears in her life, the haunt of the past, the one she once believed in but now has to flee from, Count Oginsky (played by Siegfried Breuer). While the two men stand in contrast, Antonia parallels with all imagery of the movie manifested in light and shadow (note the scene in her villa with Oginsky, the turmoils in the streets and the moving shadows).
These ostentatious set designs, these beautiful interiors evoke the subtlety of these movies no longer found in cinema. But the most fertile theme in is expressed in her tragedy, in her quest for 'open air', in her typical female beauty that cannot fulfill herself in this world. In one scene, so much echoing the Swedish silents' predominant use of visuals in Stiller's GOSTA BERLING SAGA, she laments in her carriage at the side of friend Barbaccia (Hedwig Wangel). In the finale, in more or less typical touches of the time, Ms Leander brings all to a tear jerking conclusion. That's a totally different world she lives in and a totally different way out she chooses.
But Leander, like Dietrich, does not only play her role with ease but also sings skillfully with the wonderful music by Theo Mackeben. It is still worth listening to her deep voice that was so much appreciated in the Germany of the time.
Her leading men deliver equally powerful performances. While Bruewe portrays a more calm, down-to-earth, positive male character whose principles are clear and passion is a simple family life in the country, Breuer depicts an unprincipled character, furious, dominant, bossy. In one scene, we see him breaking mirrors. For both, revolutionary ideas, however, are alien though the motives are pretty diverse. As a female charm that has nothing to do with femme fatale comes Eva Immermann as Luise whom Detlev marries. She has some blissful moments in the movie, usually the moments in nature or at calm, less ostentatious sets.
Her job was to make other people happy generalized as it may seem, she makes us realize that along with her final choice, the way to freedom is wide open by gentle wind blowing through open window and moving the curtains for the deep sleep. But whose way is it, actually? Open for viewers ready to appreciate this gem of old German cinema.
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