Top 250 - Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans (1927)

Artistically spectacular yet morally unsettling, 'Sunrise' is a fairytale full of matrimonial hardships and reconciliation.

For the first time since starting this challenge, I was definitely out of my comfort zone with 'Sunrise,' given that I hadn't heard of the film, director or any cast members before the start of opening credits. It does, however, give me the most unbiased and non-preferential perspective from which to write this review. Unfortunately for Murnau, 'Sunrise' holds another first - I wasn't completely bowled over. Don't get me wrong, the use of visual trickery is as beautiful and innovative as anything up to George Lucas' 1977 movie about forces, robots and an asthmatic Batman, but my main issue is that storyline holds very little realism when the plot deals with such sensitive subjects as domestic violence and adultery and is therefore open to all kinds of interpretation.

The film follows 'The Man' and 'The Wife, the former tempted away from the latter by the enticing 'The Woman From the City' (they really did have original names back then) who convinces The Man that the only way for them to be together will be to set up an 'accidental' drowning for his Wife. Just seconds from committing the deed, The Man realises how foolish and misguided he is being, but not before The Wife cottons on to his intentions and makes a break for it onto a tram and into the city, given chase by The Man.

Here comes my only complaint - within 5 minutes of arriving in the city, The Man has been forgiven and the remaining two thirds are spent getting a shave & a haircut, a professional photograph and dancing the night away. How easy is it to be forgiven in the 1920's? "I'm sorry I lied to you" - yes. "I'm so sorry I committed adultery" - maybe. "I'm sorry I tried to murder you" - what the hell? Surely it would take more than a coffee, cake and some cuddling to let that one slip. On the other hand, the mise en scene and pacing of this film certainly evoke a fairytale atmosphere, so such unrealistic occurrences may be forgiven. The slow, deliberate movements of the characters in the opening third is almost like watching a filmed play; The exaggerated actions create a dream-like state, that, when coupled with the eerie, mist-filled sets and camera trickery confirm the fairytale perception. I suppose in the realms of fantasy I could let my only qualm lie. After the forgiveness, this has to be one of the greatest films about love in cinema history: the unflinching lovers' walk into traffic as they stare into each others' eyes; the pure jealousy shown by both parties at the barber's; the constant romantic gestures - they are the couple that you are friends with who you cannot bear to watch.

But now that we are past that little indiscretion, just like The Wife, I return to what I love about this film. The aesthetics are spectacular and it is beautfull shot. In particular, the use of superimposition is well beyond it's years and it's application results in great dramatic effect, especially when The Man is deliberating his Wife's fate and his ghostly mistress play the 'Devil-on-the-shoulder.' It's simple, yet shows us how his tormented mind is trying to make the toughest decision of his life.

Despite the melodramatic overtones, a lighthearted spirit shines through. Where else from this time period can you find the pursuit of a drunken pig through a fairground dance-hall no more than half an hour after a horrifying attempted murder? Although this film may be morally ambiguous and certainly cannot be taken literally, it is a wonderful fairytale of the renewal of romance. Watch it, but leave your scepticism at the door.

Movie - 6
Film - 9

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Craig French said...

I like your writing style - very entertaining and very good review.

'Asthmatic Batman' - quality stuff.

Looking forward to the next one.

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