Thursday, May 15, 2008

Madame DuBarry

Madame DuBarry; Silent drama, Germany, 1919; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Pola Negri, Emil Jannings, Harry Liedtke, Eduard von Winterstein, Reinhold Schünzel, Else Berna

Paris, 18th century. Jeanne Bécu is an ordinary girl working in a footwear shop. She gets the assignment to deliver a hat until 5 pm, but she oozes off by flirting with her boyfriend Armand De Foix in his home. When the king and his servants pass by the streets, her hat gets destroyed, but a Spanish descant named Don Diego gets so fascinated by her beauty he invites her to diner. She agrees and meets the high class Jean du Barry, moving to his house after Armand kills Diego in an act of jealousy. In order to rid himself of 100.000 Livres of debt, du Barry sends her to seduce minister Choiseul and make him "forget" about the debt. She fails, but accidentally meets king Louis XV who also gets fascinated by her beauty. She becomes his mistress and gets presented to the court. After Louis XV dies of small poxes, Louis XVI expels her. She is arrested by the Revolutionary Tribunal and gets executed by guillotine.

"Madame DuBarry", also known as "Passion", is an unknown and early silent drama by director Ernst Lubitsch, panned by a large number of critics who lamented that it lacks that special "Lubitsch touch", yet it definitely doesn't lack that special "cinema touch". It's an elegant history piece revolving around the rise and fall of the famous Madame DuBarry, the embodiment of "marriage out of interest" and polyandry, who achieved her whole succes by jumping from one influential lover to another. Pola Negri isn't that dashing as she should have been for the reputation of the irresistible title heroine, yet she plays her nicely. Thanks to the mischievous tone and energetic nature of DuBarry, Lubitsch crafted a film that almost seems like a comedy at moments, like in the diner scene where Don Diego gets so carried away by DuBarry's beauty he kisses her, but she suddenly becomes cold and formal, making him back off - only to burst in laughter a few seconds later and kiss him on the cheek. Not to mention the pseudo erotic scene where the king Louis XV takes a roll of paper out of DuBarry's cleavage, reads it is a debt, signs it off with a smile, rolls it back and returns it back into her cleavage. Some of the dialogues are shrill as well ("You will do it for 100.000 Livres." - "100.000 Livres? For that kind of money I would marry the devil's grandmother!"), the costumes are fine and the narration is fluent. Maybe the film isn't a classic and one might say the finale with the scenes of thousands of extras on the street seems uneven since it crosses into epic, yet the story as a whole works.


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