God and Satan war over earth; to settle things, they wager on the soul of Faust, a learned and prayerful alchemist. During a plague, Faust despairs and burns his books after failing to stop death; Satan sends Mephisto to tempt Faust, first with insight into treating the plague and then with a day's return to youth. Mephisto is clever, timing the end of this 24 hours as Faust embraces the beautiful Duchess of Parma. Faust trades his soul for youth. Some time later, he's bored, and demands on Easter Sunday that Mephisto take him home. Faust promptly sees and falls in love with the beautiful Gretchen, whose liaison with him brings her dishonor. Is there redemption? Who wins the wager?Written by
A lyrical fable version of Goethe's famous story, where Mephisto and an angel gamble with Faust's spirit, the entire film has an aura of delicate beauty. When Faust's town is shrouded with a pestilence, Faust summons Mephisto and agrees to a trial selling of his soul, in the hopes that he can save the townspeople. When Faust does indeed cure the town, Mephisto tempts him with the promise of youth and Gretchen, the most beautiful woman in Italy. Misty, often eerie, fiendish imagery, like satanic birds, hooded men, flying horsemen and Caligari-inspired exteriors fill the screen. When Faust signs his contract, the words burn themselves into the page as Mephisto dips his feather pen in Faust's vein. A wonderful touch near the beginning has Faust trying to escape Mephisto but having him appear wherever he goes, always a few steps ahead. Both Faust, as a young man, and Gretchen are lovely, and Jannings gives an excellent performance as the Dark Prince. A masterpiece of poetic atmosphere that ages Murnau's technical mastery wondrously, the film is aided tremendously by the sometimes ominous, sometimes enchanting orchestral score. 10/10
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