The last screening of the German Monday Film Show THIS YEAR is a silent movie,  one of Ernst Lubitsch’s early masterpieces, a gleefully entertaining romantic farce, with all the wit and sauciness that characterises his most distinctive comedies

DIE BERGKATZE – THE WILD CAT

1921, 82 min., dir. Ernst Lubitsch, starring Pola Negri, English inter-titles

DATE: 1 DECEMBER

TIME: 17h00.*  *with a bring and share before and in-between

VENUE: Howard College, MTB North Wing, 1st Floor, German Programme, Media Room F251

About the film:

At a remote fort, the commander awaits the arrival of a new lieutenant, who is captured en route by a band of outlaws that roam the nearby, snow-covered mountains. But the daughter of the bandits’ leader quickly falls for the young officer, thus setting in motion an outrageous farce that is Lubitsch at his most unrestrained.

Set in one of Lubitsch’s hallmark mythical kingdoms, Die Bergkatze  finds Lubitsch in exuberantly expressionistic mode, employing a host of optical masks to create perhaps the most visually audacious comic spectacle of his career. Pola Negri plays the daughter of a band of thieves; seduction of army commander (and audience) ensues. Lubitsch’s personal favourite work of all his German films, it represents a peak in both Lubitsch’s silent oeuvre and the silent cinema as a whole.

“Die Bergkatze (a.k.a. The Wildcat) is Ernst Lubitsch’s supreme comic triumph, a film that surpasses the director’s previous and subsequent comedy marvels not only in its unbridled hilarity but also in its artistic brilliance. The film may lack the sophistication of Lubitsch’s later Hollywood offerings, but for sheer entertainment value it is an unparalleled achievement, certainly for this era of German cinema.

This is certainly one of the most visually expressive of Lubitsch’s films. Every other shot is frame-matted, with the same childlike abandon of someone who has just discovered a new graphics design package. The sets (designed by Ernst Steiner, a frequent collaborator of the great theatre director Max Reinhardt) are ludicrously comical and render the characters that inhabit them even more absurd. Even the exteriors, set in the Bavarian Alps, have a warped expressionistic quality, although nothing compares with the mind-bogglingly weird dream sequence featuring a gang of musical snowmen. With an almost adolescent glee, Lubitsch is cocking a snoot at his more serious rivals and showing the world that he is not only a filmmaking genius but also a comedy anarchist, the Monty Python of his day.

“Unfortunately, neither the public nor the critics quite saw the joke. Even with a star of the calibre of Pola Negri in the lead role, giving immense value in a rare comedic part, Die Bergkatze proved to be an immense flop in Germany and failed to get an international distribution. The main reason for the film’s failure was its humorous portrayal of the military as self-deluded incompetents, not a popular point-of-view for a country that had recently suffered a crushing defeat in the First World War.

“In spite of the frosty reception it met with, this film was always fondly regarded by Lubitsch, who considered it to be the best thing he made in Germany. It presages much of his later work, both in its subject (power struggles in male-female relationships) and  in its effortless use of comedy. The pathos and absurdity of the human mating ritual would feature heavily in the director’s later films, but seldom with as much unrestrained hilarity and artistry as in Die Bergkatze, Lubitsch’s supreme comic masterpiece. ” (James Travers, 2000)

 For further details please contact:

Dr Marion Pape

German Studies

University of KwaZulu-Natal

School of Arts

Durban, 4041

Email: papem@ukzn.ac.za

Tel: 0027-31-260 1086 / 2380

Fax: 0027-31-260 1242

 

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