After falling pregnant to a pharmacist and refusing to marry, a young woman is thrown from her home and sent to a strict girls' reform school.After falling pregnant to a pharmacist and refusing to marry, a young woman is thrown from her home and sent to a strict girls' reform school.After falling pregnant to a pharmacist and refusing to marry, a young woman is thrown from her home and sent to a strict girls' reform school.
Despite all this darkness, it's the first half of the film that is strongest. The casting is fantastic and the supporting characters are all brilliant - Josef Rovenský as the dad, Fritz Rasp as the lecherous, power-hungry pharmacist, Franziska Kinz as the cold and calculating second wife, Valeska Gert as the maniacal matron of the reformatory, Andrews Engelmann as her bald henchman, Edith Meinhard as her wily friend, and Martha von Kossatzky as the leering madame of the bordello - each of them is strong, and has memorable moments. And then on top of that, you have Louise Brooks, with her iconic looks and her natural acting ability which avoided over-emoting even in melodramatic moments. Director G.W. Pabst really got the best out of her in the two films they made together. My only complaint with her performance here was in the very odd swoons she goes into when in the arms of men a couple of times, who then drag her off to bed, and as she's apparently unconscious, have their way with her. This just seemed odd and unnatural to me.
The scenes in the reformatory in particular are strong, with the matron (Gert) demanding that the girls do things in sync as part of the tight ship she runs. In some kind of blend between Expressionism and fascism, we see them lifting their spoons to their mouths in unison as they drink their soup, and later Gert bangs on a drum to keep time for them while they exercise, throwing herself into a mad, almost orgiastic frenzy as she does so. There are so many ways this movie is about the exercise of power and predation, and this is one of them.
Where the film stumbled for me is in the second half, where I found it suffered from a lack of honesty. Brooks is too happy at the bordello, and the events which follow from there are just not believable. The message of the film, that with grand sacrificial gestures and "with a little more love, no one on this earth would ever be lost" is a good one, but the way it's delivered rings false. I thought Pandora's Box was the better film because of this, but on the strength of cast, and to just see Louise Brooks in one of the precious few films of hers before everything unraveled for her, I'd still recommend this one.
- Jul 31, 2019