Sunday, April 15, 2007
Faust; silent fantasy; Germany, 1926; D: F. W. Murnau, S: Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, Frida Richard, William Dieterle, Yvette Guilbert
The forces of evil want to escape from the underground, but are stopped by an angel. The angel and the devil make a bet: if the old professor Faust becomes evil then the whole world will come under the rule of evil, but if he remains good then the forces of justice and love will rule the Earth. The devil unleashes a deadly disease in the city and Faust is desperate to find a cure and help the sick people. To find enough knowledge, he sells himself to Mephisto, devil's servant, for a day. But the people realize with whom he made a deal and cast him away. Mephisto makes Faust young again, places him on a flying rug and brings him to an Italian town. There Faust enjoys the attractive women and decides to sell his soul to Mephisto in order to stay young. Returning back to his city, Faust falls in love with Gretchen, but Mephisto kills her brother. Gretchen ends up getting burnt alive on a bonfire, but Faust joins her voluntarily. As they both die, the deal is broken with his love, thus making good triumph over evil.
Shining silent fantasy "Faust", an adaptation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's book with the same title, is probably the best film F. W. Murnau ever made, an expressionistic masterpiece. The director leads the iteration of intriguing events in a bravura way, even in the somewhat overlong and overstretched ending. Murnau displays a rich movie language, depicting several situations and interactions visually, bravely creating extraordinary, unusual scenes that contain a genius visual style: the opening shots are already unbelievable, where three skeletons riding monsters, symbols of evil, are leaving the bizarre underground world full of smoke and heading towards the light (Earth), but are then stopped by an angel who makes a bet with the devil that the good old scientist Faust will never become evil. Seeing these kind of special effects in a silent, black and white film in the era when visual and special effects were not even properly developed, really is groundbreaking and memorable.
Other impressive-expressionistic scenes present are the ones where a giant shadow of a giant body of Mephisto is towering over the whole town on the hill; the one where Faust is reading a contract and the word "power" starts glittering in the text; as well the incredible sequence in which Faust and Mephisto are flying on a rug through mountains, forests, waterfalls an seas - the moving camera really used all the tricks to make breadboard of those landscapes both realistic and fake, obviously influencing a lot of future film directors (Raimi, Burton and Gilliam). In the heart of the story lies an interesting theme about individuals who are willing to "take shortcuts" for their success, for their breakthrough, symbolically selling their soul to the devil by thinking they are doing the right thing, thinking that the result justifies the cause. This theme of consequentialism is still relevant today, but it would not have been worth much if it were not wrapped in an amazing package from the skillful, practically avant-garde authors of this film, and despite the delicate messages, this is still a story about the triumph of emotions and a radical execution of it.