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CHEATED BY THE WINDS

Germany, 1937 (MIFF 1987, Retrospective: Douglas Sirk: An Appreciation)

Director: Douglas Sirk

La Habanera was the last feature Sirk made in Germany (he shot several short films with students in Munich after he left Hollywood). In Jon Haiiiday's book-length interview with him, Sirk describes it as "irony dressed up as romanticism", an apt description, in fact, for all of his work. Its appropriateness here is evident in the way its characters are constantly entwined in a web of illusions about themselves and about the world around them.

When Astree Stemhjelm (Zarah Leander) visits Puerto Rico, she is seduced by its siren song, 'La Habanera', with its promise of how "the winds whisper a song of love". This exotic place and the charming Don Pedro (Ferdinand Marian) seem to offer her a refuge from her "cold and dreary" home, the oppressive society world of Stockholm. But as Puerto Rico turns from Paradise to Hell, she yearns for the natural splendour of a Sweden where the snowflakes are like "billions of frozen angels". As her dismay grows, the film's broader social perspective constantly counterpoints the infectious exuberance of life in Puerto Rico with the diseased capitalism at its heart.

The influence of Brecht and Kurt Weill on the form of Sirk's melodrama is in evidence everywhere in La Habanera. But the most characteristic feature of the film is the way Sirk is able to transform unlikely material - the film was prepared in a hurry as a vehicle for Zarah Leander, after her success in Zu Neuen Ufem - into both a reflection of a country in a state of decay (the link with Germany is irresistible here) and a drama about the tragedy that is human existence.

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