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by Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck

grade: 7.5

Sinuous bodies, together with intense close-ups, become the great protagonists of Die Warschauer Zitadelle (made in 1930 by Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck), which, in turn, stands out above all for its stylistic elegance, fluent camera movements and, last but not least, an excellent script that is both romantic and brutal at the same time and not at all predictable, ranking as one of the couple’s most mature films. At the Viennale 2019, within the retrospective dedicated to Louise Kolm-Fleck.

Shadows from the past

After being among the most important pioneers of Austrian cinema, the couple Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck, who had become famous in their home country, moved to Berlin in the mid-1920s. Here, too, their activity as film directors was more prolific than ever, especially following a contract with Hegewald Film. Die Warschauer Zitadelle (1930), in this regard, is one of their most famous works from this second part of their career and, on the occasion of the Viennale 2019, it was re-presented to the audience as part of the retrospective dedicated precisely to Louise Kolm-Fleck.

After dealing with highly controversial issues in The Right to love (1929), Doctor Schäfer (1928) and Crucified Girl (1929), the couple changed direction completely, adapting for the big screen the homonymous play by the Polish playwright Gabriela Zapolska, in which, in a Warsaw of the 1920s, the control of the police state over citizens was stricter than ever. This is the case, for example, of the young student Boris, who, after being accused of revolutionary propaganda activities, is miraculously pardoned instead of being sent to Siberia. Yet, the controls on him will not cease and, to these ends, a charming Russian spy who, officially, works as a dancer, will begin to approach him. And things will become even more complicated when the boy falls in love with the niece of one of the state police chiefs.

In a nutshell, a true political-sentimental drama, this Die Warschauer Zitadelle, which, although it does not stand out in terms of the controversial topics it deals with, contains numerous innovations from a purely technical point of view.

A film, this one, which unfortunately also suffered from the passing of time, but which, precisely because of the particular lighting technique used, as well as a skilful double exposure, did not require a heavy restoration work. The final result, in any case, is practically impeccable.

On this occasion, then, the Flecks’ camera seems more agile than ever. And, in its own way, it tries to borrow a lot from the Hollywood approach, particularly with regard to the characters and their particular lighting (the moment when the charming La Jana, in the role of the Russian spy, performs one of her ballets is particularly impressive in this respect). And so sinuous bodies, together with intense close-ups, become the great protagonists of this important Die Warschauer Zitadelle, which, in turn, distinguishes itself above all by its stylistic elegance, fluent camera movements and, last but not least, an impeccable script, at once romantic and stark and not at all predictable, and ranks as one of the couple’s most mature films. And, not surprisingly, it is also one of their best-known works outside Austria.

But, in reality, one scene alone would be enough to give an idea of the impact Die Warschauer Zitadelle has on the audience. This is the scene in which, on a wall, we see the shadows of the prisoners as they slowly make their way towards the train that will take them to Siberia. Over their heads, the huge shadow of a cross suggests their sad fate, shadows of still living people, yet already, sadly, ghosts of the past.

Original title: Die warschauer Zitadelle
Directed by: Louise Kolm-Fleck, Jakob Fleck
Country/year: Germany / 1930
Running time: 85’
Genre: drama
Cast: Victor Varconi, La Jana, Adam Brodzisz, Ferdinand Hart, Louis Treumann, Harry Hardt, Hilda Rosch, Olga Limburg
Screenplay: Hans Rameau, Gabriela Zapolska
Cinematography: Georg Muschner
Produced by: Hegewald Film

Info: the page of Die Warschauer Zitadelle on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria; the page of Die warschauer Zitadelle on iMDb