A family of Polish refugees tries to survive in post-World War I Germany. For a while it seems that they are making it, but soon the economic and political deterioration in the country begins to take their toll.
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The story follows a Polish professor and his family who have become refugees in the aftermath of World War I. They try to survive in Germany during the period of the Great Inflation. Carol Dempster is Inga, a Polish war orphan who struggles to provide for the family that has taken her in, while accumulating a meager dowry from the rubble of depression-stricken Berlin so that she can marry Paul. Returning to his family, weakened by the battlefront's poisonous gases, Paul invests in his and Inga's future by tending a secret garden which he hopes will provide the resources for them to live, and which serves as a symbol of optimism for the two young lovers.Written by
Fiona Kelleghan <email@example.com>
So now Griffith gets the credit for neorealism too? As if American films like Regeneration and European films like The Outlaw and His Wife (not to mention plenty of Griffith's Biograph shorts) hadn't been shooting grim reality for years? Perhaps he did encourage Germans to film their own urban reality, but if so, they soon surpassed this film.
It isn't that this is a bad film by any means. But Griffith can't get past his own Victorianisms to see the people as well as the bleak streets he's putting on screen-- you'd never believe that the young couple in this story fought in the same war that produced A Sun Also Rises, and were part of the culture that was depicted in Cabaret. Even set aside the purplish titles, and his view of postwar Germans is closer to the homespun idealized Americana of Tol'able David than it is to Brecht and Weill. Only in the climactic scene-- when a mob is nearly dissuaded from a crime by Dempster's pleas for worker solidarity, and then shockingly turns back into a mob anyway-- do you feel that Griffith is really seeing the society that, in a few years, would form the mobs of Nuremberg and Kristallnacht.
And stylistically, the film resists coming alive, as so many of Griffith's 1920s films do. The first problem is casting-- how the director who made Pickford, Gish, Bobby Harron, Mae Murray and so many others in the teens could have staked his career at this point on the dim romantic fire between Neil Hamilton and Carol Dempster is one of film history's mysteries. In truth, the much-maligned Miss Dempster does give perhaps her best performance here, but even fully lit she's a 40-watt bulb next to the klieg lights of Gish et al. And Griffith's style, once so hyperactive, willing to shred the continuity of a scene in order to give us the closeups that would make us feel the actor's moment, is too often staid and stagey (except, again, for the entirely admirable climax).
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