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Saturday, November 1, 2008

TIEFLAND (1940-‘41 - released 1954)

Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favorite female filmmaker*, made this slightly mad romantic fable in Spain while the war raged back in the Fatherland. In theme, style & visualization, it’s very close to one of those fatalistic, ultra-romantic late silents Frank Borzage made with Charles Farrell & Janet Gaynor. Riefenstahl, looking both stunning & motherly, stars as a gypsy dancer who drives men crazy with a tilt of her head, a twist of the wrist & a smoldering glance. A bankrupt baron lusts for her, but needs to marry for money. He recruits a mountain shepherd to act as an in-name-only husband. Alas, our guileless peasant also falls for Leni. Only a fight to the finish will settle things. With its superb Spanish locations, atmospheric lensing and an odd but effective editing technique for the action scenes, there’s a lot to look at even when the film feels deranged or hopelessly dated. The weirdly artificial sets, so precise as to seem like scale models inflated to actual size, nicely mimic the operatic dramatics. Less acceptable is Riefenstahl’s culpability in using real gypsies ‘borrowed’ from concentration camps as film extras. Naturally, all were returned in good condition to face whatever hell was ahead of them. That Leni. Eyes wide shut till the end.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Apparently, Fritz Lang was Adolph's #1 choice . . . until Lang found out and fled the country.

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