Tiefland (Leni Riefenstahl / Austria-West Germany, 1954):

The opera is jettisoned, what you get is Lothar’s libretto as the jumping-off point for Leni Riefenstahl’s fairy-tale vision of her travails. The overture is replete with silent-movie idiom: The shepherding, half-dressed naïf (Franz Eichberger) is roused as the wolf disperses his herd of sheep, the hero thwarts the predator with his bare hands (filmed a la Die Nibelungen or Fantasia) and is rewarded with a pastoral symphony (sunrise, mountains, waterfall in splendiferous montage). Down in the city, the tyrannical, ruined Marquis (Bernhard Minetti) agrees to marry the burgomeister’s daughter (Maria Kopperhöffer) but is more interested in the gypsy dancer (Riefenstahl, dusked-up amid the castanets). The dancer is brought to the nobleman’s castle, his lusty gaze yields to poker-faced servants boring each other with card tricks in the kitchen, outside the peons ache for water. "I would sooner kill you than let you go." Riefenstahl’s forward lushness makes an Oktoberfest out of embroidered veils, fans and sequined brocades, dark figures in the flat desert and the flamenco twirler’s undulations; the diagonal tilt of sombreros becomes a visual leitmotif. Shot in the 1940s, edited and released more than a decade later, plagued by rumored infamy (production grumbled at by Goebbels, extras culled from Auschwitz, footage confiscated by de Gaulle’s courts). The Bartered Bride, ¡Qué Viva México!, Río Escondido, Yolanda and the Thief, Sirk’s amusement (in La Habanera) at Teutonic pronunciations of "caramba!" Above all, Riefenstahl’s ambivalent meta-fantasy of herself as an exotic wanderer whose gifts are indulged and explored by charismatic monsters. The last shot prophesizes endless migration. With Aribert Wäscher, Karl Skraup, Luis Rainer, and Frida Richard. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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