The Love of Jeanne Ney with Uno Henning and Edith Jehanne.
G.W. Pabst's The Love of Jeanne Ney / Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney is a real mystery. And I mean that in the truest sense of the word. The entire film is a puzzle.
The opening title card introduces the story:
After that, you're on your own.
The first character introduced is simply named Mr. Khalibiev (Fritz Rasp), the first of many “unscrupulous men” who inhabit this complex tale. A more unctuous, repellent individual could not be imagined. When we see Mr. Khalibiev smoking something very suspicious from a pipe, it is obvious he is up to no good.
Then, what begins as a story about political intrigue soon turns into a romance between beautiful Jeanne Ney (Edith Jehanne) and Andreas (Uno Henning), the Bolshevik revolutionary who brutally killed her father.
We first meet Jeanne Ney when her father breaks the news that their business is not doing well, so they are moving back to their native Paris. Jeanne is overjoyed to get away from the revolution and be in a big city again. Following her father's death, however, she must escape to Paris alone. Once there, she settles in with her lecherous, money-minded Uncle Raymond Ney (Adolph Edgar Licho) and her shy, trusting blind cousin, Gabrielle (Brigitte Helm).
Soon we see the suspicious Mr. Khalibiev again. He insinuates himself into the Ney household, conniving his way into proposing marriage to Gabrielle, whom he plans to strangle after the wedding so as to take her money. Raymond Ney encourages the relationship, thinking Khalibiev is rich.
Ney also happens to be a private investigator, who is assigned the job of finding a missing diamond and getting a reward of 50,000 marks. The diamond is recovered in a most absurd way, but the filming of the scene is so inventive that I forgive the manipulation. Before Ney can reap the reward, however, he is murdered by Khalibiev. In a striking moment that follows, his blind daughter just happens to come in and stumble on his dead body.
Jeanne, for her part, has problems of her own. She keeps running into Andreas, the revolutionary who killed her father. In a flashback, we discover they had a romantic relationship before he became a Bolshevik.
Subsequently, they spend the night together when her uncle is killed. Meanwhile, Khalibiev plants evidence at the crime scene that points to Andreas as the killer. Since Khalibiev had seen Jeanne and Andreas together the night of the murder, Jeanne goes searching for him as a witness. Instead, Khalibiev turns on her and tries to molest her. But while they are struggling, guess what just so happens to fall out of his pocket?
Outside of Jeanne, Gabrielle, and Andreas, the characters in The Love of Jeanne Ney seem to have originated from the Diane Arbus School of Casting. The actors appear to have been chosen for their shocking appearance, and these unattractive people are given ample time for their many garish close-ups.
The Love of Jeanne Ney also offers lots of surreal images, as in one scene where a simple-minded old man gives Jeanne what appears to be a couple of fish wrapped in a newspaper.
Curiously, in Rudolf Leonhardt and Ladislaus Vajda's screenplay (from a novel by Ilja Ehrenburg), the lives of the characters keep intersecting. In fact, the plot of The Love of Jeanne Ney is full of perverse twists and turns that bewitched this viewer into following along closely, but never fully understanding it all. Besides the political intrigue and odd love story, Pabst's film is filled with deception, greed, horror, and murder. And plenty of surprises.
The all-engrossing camera work is by Fritz Arno Wagner and Robert Lach, who must be given credit for keeping this complicated story so cinematically intriguing. Pabst, for his part, infuses the action with such style and visual treats that, confused as I was, I never once lost interest.
As a plus, Kino's The Love of Jeanne Ney DVD has a marvelous musical score by Timothy Brock and the Olympia Chamber Orchestra. The music is always in sync with what is happening on screen, impelling the story forward at all times.
Summing up, The Love of Jeanne Ney is one of those films that I can neither explain nor fully understand. But that doesn't really matter. The filmmaking is so compelling that I just got swept away with its brilliance.
© Danny Fortune
DIE LIEBE DER JEANNE NEY / THE LOVE OF JEANNE NEY (1927). Dir.: G.W. Pabst. Cast: Edith Jehanne, Uno Henning, Fritz Rasp, Brigitte Helm, Adolf Edgar Licho, Eugen Hensen, Sig Arno, Vladimir Sokoloff. Scr.: Ladislaus Vajda, Rudolf Leonhardt; from a novel by Ilja Ehrenburg.