Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Zarah Leander, Ferdinand Marian, Karl Martell, Julia Serda, Boris Alekin
Director: Douglas Sirk
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Special Interests, Musicals & Performing Arts
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Ufa Goes on a Caribbean Cruise
Dave Clayton | San Diego, CA USA | 04/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Up until 1933, German studios retained a preeminent position both in European and in world film production. Pictures such as Josef Von Sternberg's The Blue Angel, Fritz Lang's M, and Leontine Sagan's Maedchen in Uniform were spectacular successes both critically and at the box office. After the rise to power of the Nazis, the story changed drastically. Apart from the possible exception of Leni Refienstahl's Triumph of the Will and Olympiade, it is difficult to come up with significant examples of German film art made during the Nazi period. But no one should imagine that the reconstituted movie industry-basically under the control of Goebbels-simply went over to making propaganda vehicles. As Jan-Christopher Horak explains in his useful liner notes to this excellent Kino Video DVD of Detlef Sierck's 1937 soap opera La Habanera, "Much more successful [than propaganda pieces like SA Mann Brand] were star studded historical epics, spy and adventure films, and comedies that transported Gesinnung (ideology) in the subtext."
Among the popular genres was the kitschy romantic melodrama, which had antecedents in pre-Nazi hits such as The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna (1929) and Dreaming Lips (1932). La Habanera, which has similarities to Pola Negri's intended comeback picture, Tango Notturno (1937), is very much in this vein, telling the story of a Swedish visitor to Puerto Rico, Astree Sternhjelm (Zarah Leander), who runs away from the ship that is supposed to take her home and unwisely marries a local aristocratic landowner, Don Pedro de Avila (Ferdinand Marian). After ten years of unhappy conjugal union, Astree only wants to flee the steamy tropics back to the snowy wastes of her homeland, taking her son along with her. At this point, an old flame of hers conveniently appears, a Swedish doctor who has come to the island to study the mysterious "Puerto Rico fever," a fatal epidemic whose existence local officials as well as Don Pedro want to cover up.
La Habanera may well be indebted to two older American films. The most evident parallel is with John Ford's adaptation of Sinclair Lewis's novel Arrowsmith (1931), whose last third depicts the protagonist's attempt to subdue an outbreak of the plague on a Caribbean isle. However, a less obvious but more tantalizing debt could be owing to Josef Von Sternberg's The Devil Is a Woman, apparent both in details of the mise en scene and in La Habanera's thinly veiled attempt to pass off Zarah Leander as a successor to Marlene Dietrich. Even the vainly proud Don Pedro, a rather improbable denizen of Puerto Rico in 1937, seems cut from the same cloth as Lionel Atwill's Don Pasqual in the earlier movie.
The Devil Is a Woman was based on a novel by Pierre Louys dating back to 1898, and the action of La Habanera-its up to date setting notwithstanding-clearly harks back to the same era. The film's saga of a woman who stakes all in the pursuit of passion as much as the scenes of picturesque natives at play in the fields and of colorful local customs like bullfighting are clichés of etiolated fin de siecle exoticism. Yet was not the current of aestheticism that plays so conspicuous a role in the films of Douglas Sirk-as the director was called after his emigration to the United States-itself a prominent feature of the same era? Moreover, it would not be hard to find evidences of aestheticism in the sense of a fascination with beautiful appearances and of a desire to create a work of purely artistic value in the earlier films of both Lang and F. W. Murnau, not to mention in the work of lesser directors like G.W. Pabst.
This association with the past may explain the virtual allergy to anything tainted with aestheticism on the part of émigré directors like Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger. Indeed, Walter Benjamin, probably thinking of the sinister example of Stefan George, characterized Nazism itself as "the aestheticization of politics." However, Sierck's aestheticism in La Habanera like that of the later Sirk in Written on the Wind represents an anachronistic Schlussakkord and not a plangent Fascist overture. But if Sierck/Sirk's conscientious dedication to aestheticism may have itself immunized him to seductions that figures of the caliber of Gottfried Benn or Emil Nolde found themselves unable to resist, it also marked a limit to his artistic development.
Here the comparison with The Devil Is a Woman, which still possesses some of the efficacy of a gesture of defiance against the hypocrisy and repression of bourgeois society, is revelatory. It, like the director's other collaborations with Dietrich, opens up an essentially tragic perspective. Life is an ongoing disaster for Von Sternberg just as it was for the author of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but a movie director could not so easily fall back on Joyce's modernist faith in art. Even if the blind rush of life can be momentarily suspended in a moment of artistic vision, what happens when the artist preserves that moment in an intrinsically ephemeral medium? It can hardly have escaped Von Sternberg's attention that he was raising no "monument more lasting than brass" but one made of silver nitrate.
Nothing of Von Sternberg's ironic consciousness penetrates the closed world of La Habanera. At the end of the film, Astree-her Puerto Rican adventure hermetically closed off with the death of Don Pedro-departs the island for Sweden, just as the audience will soon leave the theater, having finished off its own night in the tropics courtesy of Ufa. In many of the scenes-for example, Leander's rendition of the title song-Sierck achieves a polish any director might well envy. Nonetheless, his triumph culminates in perfectly executing this wretched material, not in transcending it. The paradise that becomes a hell for the heroine was no doubt intended to be one of art for the spectator, but it remains a museum recreation of the Golden Age."
Good Douglas Sirk
M. Mayes | West Hollywood, CA United States | 03/20/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""La Habanera" tells the story of a young girl from Sweden (though Zarah Leander always seems too sophisticated to be regarded as very young)who is travelling through the Puerto Rican islands with her stodgy aunt and falls in love with the country and an autocratic nobleman. The seduction of her longing for a new life far from her roots is embodied in the famous song, "Der Wind hat Mir ein Lied erzählt", which became a standard pop song in Nazi Germany and forever identified with Leander. She marries the nobleman and severs her ties with her country and family.
Obviously, this may only end disastrously since europeans can only truly be happy in aryan society where they belong-- according to the national socialistic doctrine at the time. Flash forward a few years and-sure enough-Leander is unhappily married and her nordic-looking young son is the only bright spot resulting from her rash decision to forsake her homeland. Her jealous husband keeps her on a short leash and she can only dream of Sweden and promise her son that they will one day go there.
When a young medical researcher from Sweden arrives on the island to investigate a fatal and insurgent fever, it would seem he might prove to be the salvation for all in one way or another. But is it too late?
This is the sort of melodrama that Sirk served better than almost anyone. There is always a melancholy and repressed desire to his best work and "La Habanera" is an early harbinger of that.There are plenty of kitschy and hokey moments. Zarah Leander outfitted in a mantilla and singing before guests at her formal dinner party is priceless. Still, even with the insidious european chauvinism, this film has a wistful and entertaining appeal. From the Weimar period through the Nazi regime, many films were being made in Germany to rival Hollywood (probably out of a sense of competition and national pride) and were being done with a great sense of cinema. "La Habanera" certainly stands as a good example of storytelling, fine craftmanship and star power. It is easy to see Zarah Leander as the German Cinema's answer to Greta Garbo. Her beauty and star quality were at their height at the time of "La Habanera" and Sirk exhibits them to good advantage."
"BOLERO" [or "Death In Puerto Rico"]
Dave Clayton | 04/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"RATHER a Fun romp of the 'forbidden senses' during the latter part of the 1930ties seen through the eyes of the stunning Zarah Leander as the love-torn fraulein defying covention and 'somewhat' eloping with the flasing-eyed, handsome foreigner, only to become somewhat a bird in a gilded cage ... with little son [in lederhosen?] intow.BEAUTIFULLY restored this is a superb example of Doug Sirk's story telling artistry. The costumes are of special note - period perfect - 1936 - 37ish, and paintakingly executed [although in black and white - the fabrics are especially interesting....][So are the kitchy hairstyles for Miss Zarah - kind of a mix of Princess Leia meets Carmen - but all in all just perfect!]A must for the serious student and collector."