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It is always a pleasure to hear from Herr Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau even though this particular film is one of his minor works sandwiched in between two of his masterpieces, "Der Letzte Mann" (1924) und "Faust" (1926).
"Tartüff" (1925) was a film that Herr Murnau didn't originally intend to direct, preferring to focus his artistic efforts on his next film "Faust", once he finished "Der Letzte Mann" but in the end the German director did his duty in spite of a lack of enthusiasm for the project (After all, he was a genuine and strict Teuton).
Inspired by the play by the frenchified playwright Herr Molière, the film depicts one kind of masquerade inside another one, a film within-a-film. We get the classic story based on the original play and a new modern one, both critical of hypocrisy and dubious morality.
The passing of time has taken away the original nitrate copies of the film but the duplicates, however inferior, still don't hide the remarkable aspects of the movie. The implicit eroticism and Murnau's sibylline sense of humor come through very strongly. Murnau often uses close-ups to reflect the inner sentiments of the characters (and their falsities). Sham and imposture are duly mocked, especially that of Herr Tartüff, a false priest ( Herr Emil Jannings ). The trickster is finally unmasked thanks to the charms of Frau Elmire ( Frau Lil Dagover ), Herr Tartüff's obscure object of desire.
The combination of a costume film with a modernen one, besides being original, enriches and complements them both. The social contexts are of course different: religious hypocrisy is more the concern of the classical part whereas the modern story skewers the selfishness and greed of society. Appropriately, the rococo sets are shot in a decadent but luminous style for the old story while a dark and gloomier manner prevails for the modern scenes (the work of Herr Karl Freund is superb).
"Tartüff" may be a transitional film for Herr Murnau but it is still an imaginative approach to the Molière play wherein religious criticism and moral weaknesses and other human sins are showed openly and straightforwardly.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must tell something very different from what really he is thinking to one of his rich Teutonic heiresses.
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