Lulu is a social butterfly out for a good time, a femme who is fatale but only because the men lust after her so fiercely.
Normally in film noir the femme fatale appears to us not so much a human being but an agent, a catalyst of some dangerous illusion. She is the wet dream from the private dick's perspective, desire personified. Hollywood probably took this up from Dietrich's persona in another German film, Blue Angel from the following year, the heartless diva who presents herself in a way that will satisfy her capricious whims.
This is different though, and it is more stunning for this, the trick being that we see the world from the eyes of an innocent woman as she becomes shaped into a femme fatale. She is forced into the role and eventually plays it to perfection. The very fact that she is beautiful and sexy turns her into that prize that men would do anything to have. Film noir as we came to know it was about all these desperate efforts.
It is still however film noir in the most incisive, essential way. Dual worlds linked by the turning of karmic wheels; from inside a cheerful, innocent woman who we know to be basically good and trying to live life, but who at the same time appears provocative, alluring, exuding sex, and therefore by her very nature, by the fact that she is the person she was born to be, seems to lull men into the kind of stupor where they can dream only her, a dream so intoxicating that in turn traps her in her image.
The result is that she inhabits a different world than she weaves around her and, almost without exception, it's the jerk from one world to the other that yields the anxieties - from the private to the public, where a person is no longer himself but only the sum total of other peoples' views, and so an object of collective scrutiny or, as in our case, sexual paroxysm.
So from her end life as a series of spontaneous, often inexplicable 'nows' but which we understand to be structured around her and unwittingly powered by herself. But from the other end life organized, and from their own ends again seemingly spontaneous, with the sole intent of having her. Men suddenly crave her - they don't know why, she doesn't - and will do anything, but who she also provokes without realizing, by simply being herself.
This dual perspective that reverberates across the film, as much about the woman herself as both temptress and angelic swan, she can fit in both these roles as well as she actively pursues them, as about the swarm of men who surround her, at first pretending moral uprightness but finally more or less powerless before her charms, is ingeniously rendered in two scenes in particular.
The first is set at the courthouse where she's at trial for murder; upon being pronounced guilty, her admirers quickly stage a commotion by setting off a fire alarm that allows them to extricate her. From the outside a chance emergency, the crowd dashing, clamoring, pushing for the exit, and from her end as well, unwitting, dumbfounded, in the middle of all this crowd being carried outside, but which we know was all orchestrated by the men who'd like to have her. Of course the fire alarm is about the fires of desire.
The other is at a bar or gambling house where she has fled and is hiding for safety. A reward out on her name, various parties conspire to exploit the situation for a quick dime. Here, it is she who is spinning the most dazzling web of deceit - now improvising the role of the femme fatale on the spot, but out of pressing need. The most revealing game concocted by her: she petitions a man to gamble for her fortunes on a card table. He is winning, but of course is revealed that he was cheating all along.
It ends with all these lives finally released from the grip of the karmic energies that have clasped them so tightly, the self- instructed destinies, each according to his own decree. The man who wishes he could eat Christmas pudding one more time gets to.
Pabst orchestrates the finale as a dance of symbolic gestures; the most symbolic perhaps being that the woman had a heart of gold all along. We may had our doubts because she mingled with money, but now we know. The man doesn't to the end, this is the saddest destiny here. Of course at the cost of ever having her.
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