When I sat in my European film seminar and my seminar leader made us say the last European film we watched I found myself searching my mind… had I even seen one? The only film that came to mind was Blue Is The Warmest Colour, and I hadn’t seen all of it, but I said it anyway. The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (or in German, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari) was a new take on film that I had never watched before, hence why I want to review it.
Produced in the Weimar Republic in 1920 by Robert Wiene, the expressionist movement was captured between the synthesized guitar and the spiked shapes that crowded the settings walls, allowing the audience into the minds of the characters, despite there being no dialogue, only that shown via the sporadic texts popping up during key events.
Only an hour fifteen minutes long, the movie did make my eyes glanced at the clock once or twice, but not because of a lack of creativity within the production, but because of my own creative ignorance. The over zealous actions of the villain, Dr. Caligari may deter the modern viewer, but if you think of the time of its release, this cinematic experience would have been groundbreaking, and if you think about it in this perspective, still is today.
Revolving around a somnambulist, a sleepwalker who has slept his entire life, manipulated by a asylum director, murders at his masters will. Although we are accustomed to the gratifying classical Hollywood ending, where the guy gets the girl or the villain is slain, the hero rising from ‘his’ underdog status into the open, European cinema doesn’t allow it’s audiences such simplistic emotions. Cesare, the sleepwalker, is condemned to the mental asylum by Dr. Caligari after law enforcement and Francis, the lover of the woman Cesare attempts to kidnap, discover his part to play in the sleepwalker’s murderous spree. The villain thus receiving a comfortable position despite accusations, with his subject resorting to a life of misery. Leaving the audience in an uncomfortable position, evoking a personal opinion of the film’s narrative and characters, rather than desiring a passive response which usually resulted in successful Hollywood cinema in the early 20th century.
Clearly, this film is to be respected, not only embodying a fascinating narrative along with in depth characters, framed by close ups and expressive body movement; it also impressively captures a movement that had swept through art and literature in a medium that had previously been discarded as popular culture, of no cultural or historical importance.