On the eve of World War II (1939) English officer Ralph Denistoun is in Nazi Germany on an espionage mission to recover a poison gas formula from Prof. Krosigk. He is helped by Lydia and ... See full summary »
Film told in flashbacks of an older man's obsession for a woman who can belong to no-one but can frustrate everyone. The backdrop is SternbergÍs surreal and fantastic Carnaval in Spain. In a café the older man details his encounters with the heart breaker that his younger friend has only just met at the parade. Forewarned, the young man swears he will avoid the fate of his friend, but rushes all the same to his evening rendezvous. A dreamlike story of frustrated, lost romance, spoken in the past tense, never really resolved.Written by
The Spanish government threatened to bar all Paramount films from Spain and its territories unless the film was withdrawn from worldwide circulation. They protested the unfavorable portrayal of the Spanish police. Paramount destroyed the original print after its initial run, and it remained out of circulation until 1959. Marlene Dietrich herself kept a print of the film in a bank vault for safe keeping, as it was her favorite film. She feared the film would otherwise be lost. New prints were struck from her private copy in the 1980's for art house release. The superb quality of the prints in circulation now , and on DVD are because of this fact. See more »
A Richly Layered, Tauntingly Fascinating Spectacle!
"The is a Woman" is a wholly artificial film, dealing with wholly artificial people, amidst wholly artificial surroundings. Like "The Scarlet Empress" with imperial Russia before it, "The is a Woman" takes the simple idea of old Spain during carnival, and exaggerates it into a fantastic world choking itself with an impossible amount of streamers, confetti, and grotesquely costumed revelers. Essentially to Spanish to possibly be Spanish, the atmosphere created gives a richly textured visual feel. It becomes a costume as garish as those the Spanish people wear, disguising a series of complex and controversial themes, which could never be used as open plot devices. Director Josef von Sternberg is obviously aware of the conventions and restraints set up by Hollywood, twisting them to his own good. Using the illusion of a typical Hollywood story, he thinly but potently veils these visual costumes, which in themselves hide his rich themes, creating a film so layered its staggering!
At the center of all this is a Dietrich so beautiful, it is not quite possible to believe she ever existed outside this fantastic world created for her. Impeccably lighted, and costumed in the most flamboyant trappings imaginable, she is a toyingly evil creature of film, more alive than ever. Is it any wonder her character ruins so many men, on film alone you could fall in love with her?!
"The is a Woman" is a completely visual film. It's themes and ideas do not come from what you hear, but what you see. The plot, which seems to hide them, is really needed only that these themes and visuals may gradually reach you. I think, essentially, that story for Sternberg was like the cherry flavor in cough medicine, designed only to help you swallow the truly important stuff. Perhaps we may never reach the center of a film like "The is a Woman." If we did would we find the key to everything, or merely emptiness?
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