falderal : a moving images blog
La Habanera ; 1937  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Director: Detlef Sierck (Douglas Sirk)
Actors: Zarah Leander, Ferdinand Marian, Karl Martell, Julia Serda, Boris Alekin, Paul Bildt
Country: Germany

My “first” Detlef Sierck/Douglas Sirk was La Habanera (first is in quotes because I only watched 10 minutes of it in total in class because I ditched the screening. Bad Stephany, bad), but when I saw Zarah Leander with her Princess Leia hairdo, it was love at first sight. Everyone needs a little bit of Zarah Leander’s singing (and awesomeness in general) in life.

Outside of my huge crush on Zarah Leander, I found this film to be more interesting to watch as a film that was produced in the Third Reich and also as an early melodrama in Sierck’s oeuvre. Maybe because I saw this film with the mindset of “it’s a Nazi film!” that I couldn’t help but interpret it as propaganda. With its veneer as an entertainment film, one could pick out things that reflect Nazi ideology. The idea of “heimat” struck me in the beginning of the film when I saw how uncomfortable Astrée’s aunt was. Already it was a sign that she does not belong in the world of Puerto Rico, thus Astrée (Leander) doesn’t as well. Eventually Puerto Rico’s charm fades and Astrée longs for Sweden. On top of this, her child with Don Pedro (Marian) has light blonde hair and has an affinity for things related to Sweden. Spanish guy + Swedish woman = perfect Aryan child: a bit weird, isn’t it? Also note that Juan Jr. seems to get along with Dr. Nagel (Martell) more than his own father. Interesting… Everything in this film has implications that people belong where they are from and also casts a bad light on anyone who isn’t Swedish. Don Pedro’s death is his own fault, the Americans are mentioned consistently and seen as incompetent while the Swedish doctor comes and finds a cure for the “Puerto Rico fever” in just a few days. If this film was produced outside of Germany, would I have thought these things? Is it because I know that this film was made in Nazi Germany that I have these thoughts? I could probably find the idea of “heimat” in American films as well and give any film a Nazi slant if I wanted to thus is it right to assume that every film from Nazi Germany is propaganda? It’s hard for me to come to terms with the idea that every Nazi film is propaganda, but it’s also hard for me to believe that some or not all weren’t. In the end, I can probably argue for either point. Perhaps watching this film as pure entertainment can bring us a little closer to what the contemporary German audiences thought of this film. I am so conflicted because on one hand, I believe that it is important to put context and history together with films but at the same time when I get attached to films like La Habanera, I want to believe that it’s not Nazi propaganda as if somehow the Nazi Germany part leaves a stain on the film.

Anyway, going on…

I really adore Sierck’s works for some reason and La Habanera is really a gem. Not only can viewers see Sierck’s beginnings in Germany, but the lush imagery that I loved about Sierck’s Technicolor works is all in La Habanera just without the colour. Anyone who is interested in Sierck’s works should definitely put this film on their list. I really wonder what Sierck’s connection with Ufa and the Nazis were. Just how much was he in charge of the story? Nothing about the imagery shouts out “NAZI PROPAGANDA!”, but each scene seduces the viewer with its beautiful scenery and the viewer becomes a part of this film thus being seduced like Astrée was with its charm. FASCIST AESTHETICS?! I don’t know…

Acting on Leander and Marian’s part is A++. I ADORE Marian and it’s such a shame that his career, in current times, is tainted by Jüd Suß. Funny that they’re making a film about his role in Jüd Suß and the title of the upcoming film is also called the same name as the film. I really don’t think Marian would appreciate that since he didn’t want to take part in the wretched film at all. Anyway, Marian is just perfect as Don Pedro, especially in the final scenes when you can tell that he is suffering from the disease, yet he looks so delighted in the fact that Astrée is singing “La Habanera”. He tells her that he loves her and while she shuns him, I think that deep down, he does love her in his own way. Leander is great from start to finish, especially when you see the difference in her demeanor in the beginning and in the middle of the film. The change is drastic and so real that I really believed that time did take its toll on Leander herself rather than this character of Astrée. And if you’re really not a fan of dramas and love stories, at least watch the film up to the wedding scene; Astrée’s wedding dress is to die for, in a bad way.

Overall I give this film a 7.5/10. Not too bad, not all that great, but definitely worth a watch for Leander and Marian’s performance and for Sierck’s work in Germany.

IMDb Link: La Habanera
Where to buy: Amazon.com, Kino Video

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