Original release: October 15, 1929
Running time: 125 minutes
Country of origin: Germany
Original language: German intertitles (silent film)
Director: G.W. Pabst
Writers: Margarete Böhme, Rudolf Leonhardt
Cast: Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, André Roanne, Josef Ravensky, Franziska Kinz
When we look back on the films that came from the Weimar Republic era, such as Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), Metropolis (1927) and Der blaue Engel (1930), it’s always with a great sense of nostalgia for a time in history that spawned such marvellously creative works.
Of these historical films there’s also Diary Of A Lost Girl, directed by G.W. Pabst and based on the controversial and bestselling novel of the same name, written by Margarete Böhme and published in 1905.
One of the things that remain so fascinating about this film is its themes of sexuality and how they were presented on screen. It’s not that the Weimar Republic was particularly immoral in its approach to creating works of art, it’s rather those who worked within it were more concerned with representing all aspects of life than with restricting it. That’s why Diary Of A Lost Girl remains rich in symbolism despite its lack of expressionist qualities which the Weimar Republic films are more or less famed for.
Diary Of A Lost Girl tells the story of Thymian Henning (Louise Brooks), the daughter of pharmacist Robert Henning (Josef Rovenský). The shy and somewhat innocent girl is surprised when their housekeeper, Elizabeth (Sybille Schmitz) ups and leaves them on the day of her confirmation. Wanting to know what happened, her father’s assistant, Meinert (Fritz Rasp), says he’ll explain it to her.
Later that day she’s given a confirmation present; it’s a leather bound diary for her to write in, but instead Meinert uses it to leave a note for her meet him at the pharmacy at 11.30pm. Meanwhile, he father introduces a beautiful and young new housekeeper and those around him nod knowingly. Shortly afterwards, Elizabeth’s body is discovered; having committed suicide, and it turns out she was pregnant.
As night falls, Thymian meets with Meinert, but he plans on doing more than telling her what happened to Elizabeth, he also plans on showing her. As he lifts the girl up in his arms and takes her to the bed, her foot knocks over a glass of red wine on the bedside table, spilling it on the sheets. Thymian’s encounter with the seducer leaves her pregnant, but instead of marrying him she gives the illegitimate child away and refuses to tell anyone who the father is.
This results in her being sent to a reformatory run by a pair of deviants. She begs her father to let her return home, but by now he’s married the new housekeeper and her presence there is unwanted. Thymian ends up running away to find the child she gave up, but after learning it died she resorts to working in a brothel as a prostitute, having no other way to make money.
Thymian encounters father, his new wife and Meinert in a nightclub and they’re shocked to learn what she’s become. Yet it’s their treatment of her which resulted in her downfall. Still, there’s more tragedy ahead for the lost girl when her father dies some time later and she learns Meinert will cast his widow and children out onto the streets.
Despite all she’s been through, she uses her newfound money to help them while she also tries to make a new life for herself and others who might end up suffering the same fate as she did.
Diary Of A Lost Girl makes no attempt to hide the seedy side of society with its tale of innocence corrupted. As we see Thymian go from one hardship to the next we also see those around her who contribute to this. Of these, Meinert is perhaps the most unsettling character. He has a predatory look about him as he eyes up Thymian and flicks through her father’s pornographic photographs of the housekeeper.
Contributing to the film’s symbolism, especially where virginity is concerned, we see Meinert opening Thymian’s new diary and being the first one to write in it. It’s here we get a sense that he’s not afraid to touch what isn’t his. Later on, during the seduction, as her foot knocks over the wine, spilling it on the sheets, it’s another strong representation of what’s about to take place; for the things about to be spilled and forever stained.
Louise Brooks remains exquisitely beautiful throughout as the innocent girl and Pabst captures it all a dream-like lense. Unsettling, haunting and unforgettable, it’s not hard to see why Diary Of A Lost Girl remains such a cherished film from the Weimar Republic and why Brooks is still remembered for her role in it.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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