"The Love of Jeanne Ney" - G. W. Pabst (1927)

G. W. Pabst’s The Love of Jeanne Ney (Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney, 1927) is not an Expressionist film, but like the Expressionists, Pabst never managed to reject a shot which was both forceful and picturesque. The theme was similar to The Joyless Street (Die Freudlose Gasse, 1925), except instead of depicting Vienna in turmoil, Pabst took on the whole of European postwar society.

Pabst was forced to work under some distressing pressures. First, the American films were already having a deleterious box-office effect on the German film industry, and Pabst was instructed to stage his picture “in the American style.” Second, he was also under pressure to match the recent successes of the Russians Eisenstein and Pudovkin. And finally, Ufa studios insisted on an outrageously bowdlerized version of Ilya Ehrenberg’s original story, altering the social, sexual, and political implications. The result was a masterpiece. Rotha, regarding the film even better than The Joyless Street, observed that
Jeanne Ney developed from sequence to sequence with breathtaking power. Mood succeeded mood, each perfect in its tension and its understanding.
Fritz Arno Wagner, now at the height of his cinematographic powers, achieved in his smooth travelling and panning shots and in his natural lighting a technical tour de force.

The cutting of the film has become a textbook example of unobtrusive effectiveness. Every cut was made on actual movement, so that at the end of a shot somebody was moving and at the beginning of the next shot the action was continued. The eye, following the movement, scarcely notices the actual transposition. This style was in sharp contrast to Eisenstein’s montage, which was deliberately used to shock the spectator. There is one scene in The Love of Jeanne Ney that, though lasting only three minutes, has over forty cuts – though the eye scarcely notices them. This short sequence has been used for pedagogical purposed in filmmaking courses.

Iris Varry, writing for the Museum of Modern Art Film Library, says,
Pabst’s work here is in no sense picturesque, it is photographic. His settings and his individual scenes are quite as carefully composed as those of the more obviously artistic German films, but the craftsmanship is less apparent, the spectator is led to feel “how true”, rather than “how beautiful”.

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