"My child," one asks Louise Brooks in a posh Weimar brothel, "how did you end up here," G.W. Pabst has the story. She enters in white dress and floral crown, a First Communion in the middle of a tangle of carnal dramas. Father (Josef Rovensky) goes through maids until one (Franziska Kinz) becomes mistress of the house, his assistant in the pharmacy (Fritz Rasp) preys on the heroine as she sprawls unconscious on her sheets. (A brief still-life places the eponymous journal next to a clock and a plate of beef on a bedside table, a dissolve to the next scene introduces the ensuing baby carriage.) "The family... has decided." The infant is left with a midwife, Brooks is sent to a reformatory presided over unforgettably by Andrews Engelmann and Valeska Gert—he towers and leers like Nosferatu in a suit, she wields a crucifix and bangs a lascivious gong during the girls' calisthenics sessions. The inmates revolt in an anticipatory blast of Vigo, she escapes only to land in the festive whorehouse alongside the disowned young count (André Roanne). "You belong together: A cast-out boy and a lost girl." Following the ecstatic shrine of Pandora's Box, an analytical liebestragödie for Pabst and his luminous leading lady. The filming has a refined mastery studied by Sirk, exemplified in the protagonist's entrance into the demimonde: A bravura rendering of impressions (a black cocktail dress, a sip of champagne, a smile from the grandmotherly madam) as a continuous movement building to a woozy drift with her first customer. Sudden changes of fortune, dancing perverts, lotteries and new identities, the shuttling between bordello and high society like slips in "the old evolutionary ladder," as Albee would have it. "A little more love" is ultimately prescribed, von Trier mirrors the closing sequence with his own in Idioterne. With Vera Pawlowa, Arnold Korff, Edith Meinhard, Sybille Schmitz, Sig Arno, and Kurt Gerron. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce