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You’ve got to express yourself

by The Concordian January 17, 2012
Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin has become a prolific director known for his passion for German Expressionism. Among his “German films” are Archangel (1991) and Careful (1992), both homages to filmmakers such as George W.Pabst and Fritz Lang, among others. Maddin’s films, however, have remained his own, receiving critical acclaim not only in Canada, but in the U.S. as well, and Germany in particular—in 2011, he was part of the International Jury of the Berlin International Film Festival. It is no coincidence then that this year, Maddin has been invited by Montreal’s Goethe-Institut to curate its Carte Blanche.
The films Maddin has chosen to present vary from long forgotten silent German Expressionist films such as Pabst’s Secrets of a Soul (1926) – an early exploration of Freudian theory – or Robert Reinert’s Nerves (1919) – a story about shell-shocked soldiers – to melodramas and film noir. Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living (1933), starring Gary Cooper and Mary Hopkins at the height of their fame is another gem that will be presented. Maddin’s own aforementioned films will also be featured.
This mini German film festival will open with Max Ophüls’ 1949 film Caught starring Robert Ryan, Barbara Bel Geddes, and James Mason. The movie focuses on Leonora Eames (Bel Geddes), a Denver-born girl on her way to make it big in L.A. She starts going to a so-called “charm-school” where she is to be taught etiquette and proper lady-like diction in order to be able to land, hopefully, a millionaire. Although from the beginning she doesn’t feel at ease with her own objectives – becoming rich in order to live happily – she marries the first tall, dark and handsome magnate whom she meets. Smith Olgrich (a menacing Robert Ryan) takes his young bride to his Long Island mansion, where she is to stay up late, dressed up like Cinderella, in order to greet her husband and his colleagues, who virtually live in the mansion with them. It is Beauty and the Beast, only with no happy ending anywhere in sight. Fed up with Olgrich’s dictator-like companionship, Leonora decides to leave, and finds a job as a nurse in New York, where she meets handsome Dr. Quinada (Mason). But Olgrich is not about to let her go so easily.
Caught is a cautionary tale about the traps of money, albeit how charming it may be at first. It is also a rethinking of a woman’s role in a marriage and in society in general—is her primary goal in life to find a rich husband to take care of her? The film has great cinematography, making Leonora’s world seem both magnificent and menacing at the same time, with wide landscape shots of her mansion and extreme close-ups of her beastly husband. It is the perfect tale to start the Goethe-Institut’s homage to lost German films.
Guy Maddin’s Carte Blanche series will take place from Jan. 19 to March 16 at the Goethe-Institut (418 Sherbrooke St. East, corner of St-Denis). Caught is showing on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. For more details, check out the website at www.goethe.de.

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