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|Sunrise A Song of Two Humans
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir F.W. Murnau
scr Carl Mayer
with George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston, Bodil Rosing, J Farrell McDonald, Ralph Sipperly, Jane Winton, Arthur Housman, Eddie Boland, Sidney Bracey, Phillips Smalley, Gibson Gowland
release US 23.Sep.27
reissue UK 6.Feb.04
Life is bitter and sweet: O'Brien with Gaynor above, and with Livingston below.
FW Murnau's evocative examination of marriage won three Oscars at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1928, and it stands up as the staggeringly emotional odyssey of a young couple distracted by temptation and fear. It centres on a rural man (O'Brien) who starts an affair with a sophisticated temptress from the city (Livingston), who convinces him to kill his wife (Gaynor) and make it look like an accident so he can run off with her. Nothing goes as planned, and the energetic, complex story that follows is alternatingly romantic, joyful, sexy and terrifying!
Murnau films all of this in a remarkably modern style, using flashbacks and fantasies, intricate camera work, vivid editing tricks and clever visual effects. The grainy black and white cinematography looks sumptuous--the film seems groundbreaking even today! Especially when you consider that this silent film has far more emotional resonance than most contemporary movies. It's moving and completely engrossing, and often as intense as a Hitchcock film.
The performances are natural and involving; O'Brien and Gaynor have a striking chemistry that draws us in, while Livingston is such a conniving sexpot that we believe she's a real threat. We travel with these people, as well as several hilariously colourful side characters, through scenes of deep happiness, soaring joy, hilarious comedy, droll earthiness and agonising fear and pain. There's a constant sense of impending tragedy, that there will be some sort of cosmic reckoning in the end. And yet Murnau throws in terrific touches like a drunken runaway piglet, a cheeky photographer (McDonald) and a flirty manicurist (Winton). This is a breathtaking masterpiece that's just as potent now as when it was made. Reissued on a pristine new print (and DVD), it's a must for every film fan.
Julian Allen, London: "I truly love this film from beginning to end. The acting is highly charged and compelling. The camerawork is astonishingly beautiful. The sense of movement and rhythm makes it seem more like a piece of music." (6.Feb.04)
Arturito, Madrid: "There are no words...!!!" (29.Feb.04)
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