Ministry of Fear (1944)

“Ministry of Fear” (1944)



Noir and (No) Soul

What happened to Fritz Lang when he moved to America? All the strongest elements of his film-making in Germany were lost. I’m tackling his American films, so far i reached 3 of them, and none is worth the time.

So, the story is known: having made a good number of films in Germany, all of them (or most) trying to explore the limits of cinema as a stage, and working in finding a visual manifestation for the souls depicted (expressionism). In the way, he created works of everlasting visual power (M, Mabuse and Metropolis are probably the higher points, as far as I know). He was not alone, he was inserted in a tendency in Germany. With the rise of the Nazis he moved to America. There he abandoned the expressionist experiments, and started to produce mainly in an evolving genre, that would become film noir. The basic noir, of the 40′ borrows visually from the expressionism Lang helped develop in Germany, but it had different narrative development, and changed the meaning of what the light/shadows effects meant in the German films.

This last aspect is probably what made the thing fail for Lang. In Germany he was interested (as an expressionist) in passing a characters heavy feeling or soul to us, and make us feel like he does, and creating a world that reflects a soul. For noir to work, the filmmaker must be concentrated on how the story develops around the character. It’s a matter of creating a world that the main character (and us) doesn’t know, in order to make him (and us) find it. The character is at the center of that world.

So, this Is noir. It has all the elements, indeed it is well crafted. It was made when noir was completely established as a genre, and the rules of that genre are all here. So we have Ray Milland’s character at the center of a conspiracy created ‘especially’ for him. But than, Lang wants us to see the depths of his soul, the clock he watches at the beginning and throughout the film. And that scrambles things, even because the noir construction is pure noir, but not that good, not that engaging.

Adding to this, we have the will to portray war. So the subplot of the conspiracy is probably a message of “suspect of everybody” that was intended for those days audiences. But after all, it’s entertainment.

So this is soulless, because Lang wanted to develop souls, but the genre required narrative skills, in that then relatively new genre.

My opinion: 1/5

This comment on IMDb


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