Secrets of a Soul (G.W. Pabst / Germany, 1926):
(Geheimnisse einer Seele)

Happy hour at Sigmund's ("ein psychoanalytischer film"). The childless couple (Werner Krauss, Ruth Weyer) lies amid Freudian props, the train of thought is set rushing in a simple setup (the murder across the street becomes ingrained in the chemist's psyche as he puts his razor to the back of his wife's neck). Weyer's explorer cousin (Jack Trevor) sends them gifts, a religious figurine arrives from abroad along with a blade, which gleams the way Hitchcock once declared blades should. A downpour in the bedroom kicks off "The Dream": Krauss in his PJs steps out to take a slow-mo leap into the stratosphere but is shot down by Trevor, who sits perched atop a leafless tree, grinning in his pith helmet; a charging locomotive is curved by the bulge of the lens, a tower corkscrews from the ground up with mocking severed heads for bells, there are mirrors and shadows and primordial slime. The husband is stuck in a jabbing frenzy as he awakens, and afterwards is simultaneously horrified of knives and plagued by thoughts about slaughtering the missus; the psychologist at the tavern (Pavel Pavlov) recognizes the key the tormented Krauss left behind as the heavy signifier it is ("part of my job") and invites him to the office for a hearty symbol-busting session. The plot may scramble to fastidiously separate reality and reverie, yet G.W. Pabst understands that, in a film at the crossroads of impressionism and surrealism (where a demure hausfrau is envisioned in "shameful situations" in a harem and the protagonist is reduced to having his steak sliced for him), every waking moment is a hallucination. The unchained subconscious that threatens Pabst's bourgeoisie here is what would liberate Bu˝uel's a bit later -- Un Chien Andalou is the joking riposte, where the stream-of-gags format is foregrounded and enhanced. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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