SECRETS OF A SOUL (G. W. Pabst, 1926)

Two films by Georg Wilhelm Pabst are on my list of the 100 best films ever made; four more are on my list of the 100 best films from Germany, Scandinavia and Austria. Geheimnisse einer Seele, which I watched for the first time today, is a big disappointment. It isn’t all that bad (I will rate it three out of five stars for Netflix), but as a case history it is thin and it trivializes psychoanalysis. Freud, not Brecht, should have sued Pabst.
     One problem with this film is that it’s sensational; it is full of unexpected shocks that make the heart jump: what I call boo tactics. The cumulative effect of these is that the film is terrifying; is it intentional, then, that the psychoanalytical solution to the patient’s dream puzzles does not erase the terror? I don’t know what to make of this film. I can’t imagine what it is aiming at. It’s a mess.
     Like Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound nearly twenty years later, another “case history” film about psychoanalysis, there are forks and knives about, and a queasy razor blade. A man must suppress impulses to murder his wife, whom he loves, and with whom he yearns to have a child.
     Perfect shots, expert editing; but the humanity of Freud’s work with distressed and unhinged individuals is totally lacking. And the acting is ridiculous.

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