Sunday, September 13, 2009

Erotikon (Gustav Machaty) **1/2

Director: Gustav Machaty

Cast: Karel Schleichert, Ita Rina, Olaf Fjord, Theodor Pistek, Charlotte Susa

Background: This was Machaty's 4th outing as director, and he also wrote the screenplay.

Story: George (Schleichert) is a travelling salesman who gets stuck for the night in a small town. The railroad owner lets him stay at his house. George eventually meets and seduces the man's daughter (Rina). He leaves town the next day, but she can never forget him, even after she gets married to Hilbert (Pistek).

Thoughts: What an opening! The first 20 minutes or so of this film are just absolutely mesmerizing and showcase the true power of what can be accomplished by silent cinema. Machaty is able to build ample erotic tension just by the flirtatious glances between his two actors (who are fantastic), and the eventual consummation of this flirtation is directed in a provocative way (only a close-up of the female's face in complete ecstasy is shown) that would shame many modern filmmakers. That's why it is so painful that the rest of the film just descends into a standard melodramatic love triangle. Everything plays out in such a dull and obvious manner that it's hard to believe the same director also made the first twenty minutes. There is one really nice scene late in the film, where the two men competing for Andrea get locked in an intense chess match, obviously playing to win more than just the game, but that's the only bit of ingenuity we get. I also have major problems with the ending, which is a cheap copout from the filmmaker, allowing the main character an easy solution without having to make a moral choice.

Postscript: Machaty's most notable film would be 1933's Ecstasy, which starred Hedy Lamarr and where he once again broke sexual taboos. Ita Rina would continue acting in Czech films for the next decade.

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