The Mistress of Atlantis (G.W. Pabst / Germany, 1932):

Not the bottom of the ocean for the mythical kingdom but the heart of the desert, a delirious proposition enhanced by the structure. (A radio broadcast triggers a remembrance at a Saharan fort, and then there’s a flashback to Parisian Belle Époque...) Jagged dunes and dromedaries and white burnouses are G.W. Pabst’s key visual elements in the lavish sketching of North Africa under colonial rule, a slow build-up to a nocturnal skirmish half-lit by campfire and composed with Bedouins plunging into the frame (cf. Mann’s The Naked Spur). Thus the hidden city, a bit of "Can-can" emanating from a phonograph in the middle of a winding maze of streets, a distorting lens on a tray of coruscating gems. "Many things here to astonish you," announces the British nobleman (Gibb McLaughlin) as if to the audience, welcoming with waxed mustache and cocktail-shaker. Presiding over the oasis is the Mistress (Brigitte Helm, tinted brunette and curly like Asteria), swathed in gold and satin, lounging between a stony chessboard and a chained leopard. She has her pick of lost legionnaires, one besotted and ignored (John Stuart) and the other desired and defiant (Gustav Diessi). "Das ewig Weibliche zieht uns hinan," as always with the auteur, a style of mirage-visions building on Sternberg’s early groundwork with a myriad of consequences (She, The Garden of Allah, Lost Horizon, Pépé le Moko). "Let us now drink to divine women!" The ending modulates evocatively from a sandstorm to a screen-filling marble effigy of the heroine, an ode to the medium’s intertwined proclivities for monumentality and evanescence. With Tela Tschai, Matthias Wieman, Odette Fiorelle, and Gertrude Pabst. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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