the doll film review 1919

The Doll (1919)

⭐⭐⭐⭐(4 stars out of 5)

The Doll (1919) Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

One of Ernst Lubitsch’s most eccentric films, and definitely one of the most infectious silent films in pure jubilation. The zippy, incredibly immediate exhilarating effect this film gives you is like medicine for depression, it’s an artificial comedy that opens up a wildly beautiful and nonsensical illusionistic filmic dimension. The silent period in Weimar Republic of burlesque master Ernst Lubitsch contains an invigorating display of his ingenuity for the art of cinema, which would later be transferred in sublime form in his Hollywood period.

The Doll is probably one of those that best captures his ability to give atmospheres of tantalizing sensuality without overtly exposing erotic themes, and without a doubt it is also one of those that easily prove his capacity for visual storytelling, something he would develop with sophisticated style in his sound comedies.

Very few, if anyone, mention the impact that the prolific theater director Max Reinhardt had on Lubitsch’s directorial training, it is clear that Lubitsch’s beginnings as a theater actor prior to his approach to cinema categorically marked his personality as a filmmaker. The influence he had is subtle, but in this film I would say it is explicit, much of the masterful features of this film intermingle homogeneously due to his understanding of the aesthetics of drama, Reinhardt saw the dramatic arts holistically, the union of a whole as a way to create stories that reciprocally act on the basis of the connection of each of the ingredients that make up a production, space and lighting, mime, dance and aesthetic design in general are formed to give something exceptional. This enchantingly oneiric 1919 film directed by Lubitsch puts into practice that interactive dramatic vernacular, where each element serves a function to give continuity and structure to a story. The film begins with Lubitsch himself in front of the cameras setting up a miniature stage, to then transfer us to this small world of cardboard textures, which is where the plot really begins, a diegesis that palpably has the aura of a fable, every corner of this animated world makes us experience fantasy with the most bizarre but magnificent complexion that cinematic artificiality can give you.

The film presents the story of the Baron of Chanterelle, who forces his nephew to marry immediately in order to continue the family line, but the boy’s shyness leads him to run away from all the girls in town and even to take refuge in a monastery of gluttonous monks. They, interested in money, will recommend him to marry, but not with a woman, but with a robot doll, in order to collect the money that his wealthy uncle offers him as long as he has ensured the continuation of his lineage.

The plot is very strange and unaccountable, although in fact none of that matters, what is most striking is the delirious ornamentation that this film has from start to finish, it takes us to a kind of cartoon without being a cartoon, decorations with a quirky and deformed appeal, sets that give dynamics to the plot and hasten the histrionic rhythm of the performances; and even the freakish performances have a level of exalted zestfulness that are naturally attached to this singular world, they are as much a part of it as the peculiarities of its contrived spaces, they have a mind-boggling mobility that looks like something out of a cutout animation.

Lubitsch knows how to make us laugh, and indeed this film is breathtakingly diverting, it makes you see love for what it is, no matter how unnatural the dimensions of this film are, the chortling and the mirthful act of love is something that simply flows with organic emotion in this wacky world. On the other hand, I can’t deny that each act and especially the transitions are a complete chaos, perhaps an oversight in the direction or possibly it was just as premeditated to make the narration as disorganized as the scenarios, however, if they were still flaws I think they do tremendous good to the film, it is an outlandish world you don’t want to leave, its ridiculousness is taken to the smallest of details, here even the horses are fictitious, the only real thing are the actors and the delicious emotions they convey. It is a superlative pantomime and a film of expeditious enticement.

Matteo Bedon

Written by

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them. Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.

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