Diary Of A Lost Girl

1929, Movie, NR, 93 mins

Review

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Director G. W. Pabst and the exquisite Louise Brooks teamed up again in a provocative follow-up film to the sensational PANDORA'S BOX (1928). Pulpier than its predecessor and narratively uneven, DIARY OF A LOST GIRL is nonetheless quite watchable throughout and brilliant in spots.

Her confirmation day is an eventful one for Thymiane Henning (Louise Brooks), the daughter of a pharmacist (Joseph Rovensky): first, the Hennings' unmarried governess (Sybille Schmitz) commits suicide after she is fired when her pregnancy is discovered. She is immediately replaced by the meddlesome and opportunistic Meta (Franciska Kinz). Then, Thymiane receives a medallion from an admirer, the young Count Osdorff (Andre Roanne). That night she is seduced by Meinert (Fritz Rasp), her father's assistant.

A baby arrives. When Meinert and Thymiane refuse to marry, the family gives the baby away and places the teenager in a home for wayward girls run by a strict and cruel couple (Andrews Engelmann and Valeska Gert). At Thymiane's urging, Osdorff petitions the Hennings for her release, but her father and his new wife, Meta, don't want the girl back. With Osdorff's help, she and a fellow inmate, Erika (Edith Meinhard), escape from the reform school, and Thymiane goes off in search of her baby. After she is told that the child is dead, she meets Erika and Osdorff in a bordello, where she is seduced by a customer. Caught up in the glamour and gaiety of the milieu and favored with few real options, she drifts into prostitution.

Three years later, Henning dies and Thymiane becomes engaged to Osdorff. At the reading of her father's will, she witnesses his widow and two small children being evicted by Meinert, who now owns the Henning house and pharmacy. Moved, she turns over her cash inheritance to Meta. When Thymiane informs Osdorff of her generosity, the impoverished count kills himself.

After being taken under the wing of Osdorff's uncle (Arnold Korff), Thymiane, now an elegant society woman, joins an organization devoted to saving wayward girls. One day she attends a luncheon at her old alma mater, which is still being operated by the malicious couple who were in charge when Thymiane was enrolled. When she sees that her old friend Erika is one of the inmates, Thymiane denounces the institution and exits the premises with Erika in her protective custody.

If this synopsis sounds like a scenario for a tawdry sex movie with sadomasochistic overtones, that is because it can't convey the compelling audacity of Pabst's imagery, nor the potency of Brooks's performance. Like PANDORA'S BOX, DIARY OF A LOST GIRL was toned down by censorship. The story's original ending was an early casualty. Pabst had initially wanted the closing to be less sanctimonious and more provocative, with his heroine the madam of a brothel.

It would not be wise to take the movie's plot too seriously. From confirmation to closure, DIARY OF A LOST GIRL's narrative stops at many of the cliches to be found in women's popular fiction: loss of virginity; unwed motherhood; banishment to reform school; prostitution; an affair with a nobleman; suicide; the reading of the will; and so on. However, privileged moments abound. The twin seduction scenes are intoxicatingly erotic. In one memorable moment, Thymiane, ascending a flight of stairs in search of her baby daughter, is passed by a descending man carrying a tiny coffin.

To an even greater extent than PANDORA'S BOX, DIARY OF A LOST GIRL steals sympathy for its heroine by surrounding her with monsters and weaklings. One has to turn to the films of another German--Rainer Werner Fassbinder--to find a comparable collection of grotesquely ugly people. Especially creepy are Meinert, the reform school teacher, and his wife, who is presented as if she were an automaton in the throes of sadistic hysteria. DIARY OF A LOST GIRL is to PANDORA'S BOX as THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948) is to CITIZEN KANE (1941); it's a prestigious director's excursion into the seamy world of pulp fiction. Despite its conventional, abrupt, and unsatisfying ending, it is still valuable for its frequent audacity, its scathing dissection of bourgeois selfishness and hypocrisy, and its showcasing of the incomparable Louise Brooks in her prime.

Subsequently, Brooks made only one marginally important movie, PRIX DE BEAUTE (1930), among a handful of programmers, before she retreated into obscurity, living on very modest means until her death in 1985 at the age of 78. In her book, Lulu in Hollywood, she recalled that on her last day on the set of DIARY OF A LOST GIRL, Pabst admonished her for spending all her spare time with frivolous jet-setters instead of concentrating on becoming a serious actress. She would end up, he warned her, like Lulu, the tragic character she had played in PANDORA'S BOX. "Fifteen years later," she wrote, "with all his predictions closing in on me, I heard his words again, hissing back at me." (Violence, sexual situations, adult situations.) leave a comment

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