Early & Silent Film

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Abwege / Crisis /|(The Devious Path), 1928

Posted by keith1942 on August 14, 2018

This film was part of the Weimar Programme at the 2018 Berlinale. It is a film directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. He is one of the noted directors of the 1920s silent German films. His films frequently address the position of women and are downbeat often using the chiaroscuro found in Expressionist films. However, Pabst films are closer to the ‘street’ genre, relatively realist and set amongst the lower classes, even the lumpen proletariat. He had a particular command of continuity editing and his films are full of very effective transitions.

Abwege was made in between The Love of Jeanne Ney (Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney, 1927 ), a melodrama with a strong anti-Bolshevik plot and Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora, 1929), Pabst’s most famous film with the iconic Louise Brooks as the ‘earth spirit’ adapted from the infamous plays by Franz Wedekind.

Abwege, which had a change of title just before release, was apparently made quickly. The Production Company Erda-Film GmbH, Berlin was part of Deutsche Universal-Film. [GmbH – Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung is German for “company with limited liability”]. This was the Hollywood studio’s investment arm in Germany. US capital had to bail out German film-making in the late 1920s after the crisis exemplified by the losses made on UFA’s Metropolis (1926). This film was a requirement to fulfil the quota obligations in favour of German productions.

Irene (Brigitte Helm) is married to ambitious lawyer Thomas Beck (Gustav Diessl). He neglects her and she is left alone at their affluent home [with servants] for much of the time. Her friend Liane (Herta von Walther) is a much more liberated woman with a free and easy life style. After a quarrel with Thomas Irene goes out into the Berlin night life [without wearing her wedding ring]. Pabst had a flair for depicting the decadent social life of Berlin [alongside his representations of the life of the poorer classes]. At the night club we see dancing, flirting, easy morals and drug taking. Dazzled and determined to exert her identity Irene first essays an affair with her and Liane’s friend, a painter,Walter (Jack Trevor). But he turns out to lack the backbone for an extra-marital affair. Then Irene takes up with a boxer but she narrowly avoids rape at his hands. Thomas, by this time, fully aware of Irene’s dalliances opens divorce proceedings. However, in a surprise twist, we get an upbeat romantic ending; though one that is as unlikely as those found in Hollywood studio films.

The screenplay from an idea by Franz Schultz and written by Adolf Lantz, Ladislaus Vajda and Helen Gosewisch, is excellent. The plot advances at a pace, the characters are well delineated and the film moves easily between the bourgeois world of Thomas Beck and the equally bourgeois but less respectable world of Berlin social life. Both the settings by Otto Erdmann and Hans Sohnle and the costumes (uncredited) are finely done. The cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl captures these and the characters beautifully. There are some fine angles and dolly shots in the night-club sequences and what looks like a hand-held camera. The film was tinted for its release, a practice less common in this period but which works well. And Pabst himself, with Mark Sorkin, edited the film. The cutting between the different sets and the different spaces is really good and the film moves with a fine rhythm.

Brigitte Helm, who famously played Maria and her robotic alternative in Metropolis, is convincing as Irene and in the costumes and décor she looks exquisite. Gustav Diessl, who played a complete opposite Pandora’s Box, is good as the ambitious but negligent husband. He and Helm have some fine scenes where the marital conflict plays out, both suggesting the contradictory nature of their feelings. And I liked Herta von Walther as the world-wise Liane. All the cast enjoy the expensively styled costumes that adorn this privileged circle.,

The film remains less risqué than it seems and far more moral than most of the dramas that Pabst directed in the 1920s. In a sense the plot is a little tease that both panders to a voyeuristic interest in misbehaviour but finally returns to the moral fold of the bourgeoisie.

The film had been restored in the 1990s and now transferred to a 2K DCP. This was well done and the film looked great, even in this format. The tinting on this version was well judged, fitting nicely with the black and white cinematography and avoiding the over-saturated look sometimes found in tinted digital files.. The accompaniment was by a young pianist, Richard Siedhoff, making his first appearance at the Festival. He provided an excellent score and I am sure he will be back.,

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