The affluent lawyer Thomas Beck neglects his wife Irene in favour of work and she embarks on a romance with a painter. Beck manages to prevent the pair from taking off to Vienna together, but in response, Irene throws herself wholeheartedly into Berlin’s nightlife.
A great realist of Weimar-era cinema, G.W. Pabst uses a marital crisis to paint a shimmering portrait of society. Camerawork that is as unchained as Irene herself delves into a whirling world of luxury and vice, it lays out drug use and prostitution both in the bohemian milieu and among the putative better set. And like the painter in the film, the camera is beguiled by Irene’s gaze as it caresses actress Brigitte Helm.
Wrapped in recherché robes and furs, Helm embodies a woman trapped in the gilded cage of marriage. And Irene’s attempt to flee is less of a threat to the continued existence of that institution than the ‘new woman’, with her bobbed hair and cigarette holder, which make a fascinating appearance in the film.
Digitally restored by DCP Filmmuseum München and with live piano musical accompaniment by John Sweeney.
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