Prix de Beauté (Augusto Genina / France, 1930):

The final stop in Louise Brooks' magical European tour, from Weimar Germany to bohemian-surrealist France before C-Western Hollywood, then obscurity. The iridescent Bobbed One soon emerges out of the capering flurry of Augusto Genina's Vertovian montage, legs-first in a single black swimsuit: Sunday at the beach, but it's back to work the following day for the narrative (a René Clair story penned by G.W. Pabst), with Brooks as a Parisian typist one day impulsively sending her photos to the beauty contest sweeping the nation. Fiancé Georges Charlia disapproves of her even dreaming of it, though dreams are precisely what she yearns for while posing for a photograph with him at a carnival -- the jury is quickly in, and she is off to the European finals while Charlia polishes her engagement ring at a working-class bistro. She aces the catwalk applause-o-meter and finds herself in the company of lords and maharajas, until her groom arrives to take her back to banality, but it's too late: she's already tasted glamour, and back home she dolefully gazes at the caged parakeet in the kitchen. The depths oppressing her are less of social convention than of narrow imagination, thus what more fitting medium to free her than the cinema, the studio contract offering her another chance for escape. Form seeks out beauty and beauty transforms form, as Genina's awkwardness, perched between silent impressionism and early-talkie gabbiness, gets rescued by Brooks' glow, the performer providing -- being -- her own mise-en-scène. The sensuality of cinematic fantasy radiates from her, too much so even for the Paris of 1930, and her fate is sealed with a mix of celluloid and bullets; death claims her, although the image keeps on flickering, her glory saved for the ages. With André Nicolle, and Augusto Bandini. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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