La Habanera (Douglas Sirk / Germany, 1937):

Love and other diseases. A curving pan over the ocean leads to the rocky plaza where castanets are clacked for tourists, the lady from Stockholm (Zarah Leander) sits in the audience. She's intoxicated with Puerto Rico while her aunt (Julia Serda) recommends cold compresses, it might be a Mark Sandrich romp or Rebecca three years early, the suave honcho (Ferdinand Marian) operates with "a single thrust to the center of the heart." Flash-forward ten years and the glorious sunshine has turned into oppressive heat for the lovestruck ingénue, the idyllic hacienda has become her prison—her husband's dash has hardened into villainous obsession, their son and Nordic memories are all she hangs on to. "Prayers and curses, back and forth," Douglas Sirk's oscillating romantic image in full sway. Corruption and pestilence scrape the veneer of illusion, the "official stance" in the face of a febrile outbreak is supported by Yankee connections and challenged by the handsome bacteriologist (Karl Martell). The island at night (winds, roving searchlights, sallow guards) is a noir city, the white knight wields a mighty microscope. ("Incredibly turbulent," exults the Brazilian sidekick who's unaccountably a dead ringer for der Führer.) The Caribbean played by Tenerife in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, just the setting for a companion piece to Zu neuen Ufern and a refinement of its sense of irony from within the Reich: Lullabies about Fatherland snow abound, though the inanity is revealed as soon as the beaming Aryan tyke is addressed as "Juanito." (A true heir of the director, Verhoeven borrows the jibe for Starship Troopers.) It all leads back to the sea, Leander having seized back the titular canción aboard the departing steamer, no regrets for the Sirk heroine. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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