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TO DISTANT SHORES

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

Director: Douglas Sirk

For those familiar only with Sirk's later American work, Zu Neuen Ufem will come as something of a surprise. Like most of the other films he made in Germany (particularly Stutzen der Gesellschaft (1935), which improves on Ibsen's Pillars of Society, the remarkable Schlussakord (1936), and La Habanera), it suggests a filmmaker already at the peak of his craft. The elaborate lighting and the graceful control of the camera reveal the same visual elegance that characterise the American films for which Sirk is best known. It also indicates that Sirk could have been one of the great German filmmakers had history not blocked his path.

Largely set in Parramatta in the days when even those living in Australia thought it was the other side of the world, Zu Neuen Ufem tells the story of a society divided by class, in a state of moral decay, and yet also on the verge of discovering itself. At its centre is the relationship between Sir Albert Finsbury (Willy Birgel) and singer Gloria Vane (Zarah Leander). He is a man who speaks of "a new life" to be found in this Australian "purgatory", but who is also enclosed by the values of an old one. She is the betrayed lover, doomed to seven years in a women's prison. Both are tortured souls, he a victim of his moral weakness, she of her nobility. He is the past, an aristocrat and a representative of Queen Victoria's rule; she is linked with the future for this colony.

Though Cahiers du Cinema claimed in 1967 that Sirk came to Australia to shoot Zu Neuen Ufem, he never visited these shores, alas, even for a retrospective.

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