ECSTASY (aka: EXTASE) (aka: SYMPHONY OF LOVE) (director: Gustav Machatý; screenwriters: Frantisek Horký/Jacques A. Koerpel; cinematographers: Hans Androschin/Jan Stallich; editor: Antonín Zelenka; music: Giuseppe Becce; cast: Hedy Lamarr (Eva Hermann), Aribert Mog (Adam), Zvonimir Rogoz (Emile); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Moriz Grunhut/Frantisek Horký; Hen’s Tooth Video; 1933-Czechoslovakia-in Czech with English subtitles)
“It just doesn’t live up to its cause celebre rep.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Hedy Lamarr was nineteen when this film was made. At the time it caused a stir because of two scenes, one where Hedy was nude and the other where there’s a head shot of her while having an orgasm with her lover. It was denounced for its nudity by Pope Pius XII (which only brought it to the attention of a larger audience) and Hitler banned it because Hedy was Jewish. The American and most European versions censored those scenes. Later on they were restored; Hedy’s wealthy German munitions dealer hubby tried to buy up all the prints but after spending millions couldn’t buy them all. It was really much ado over nothing, but at the time it was what landed Hedy a Hollywood contract with Louis B. Mayer. She also changed her name from Kiesler to satisfy her new studio.
Czech director Gustav Machatý (“Jealousy”), with an eye to the lucrative international market, used sparse dialogue and shot it as if it were a silent. He also shot it totally from the woman’s viewpoint, using some heavy phallic symbolism to doll up the romantic idyll and even had the working stiffs in the field seem like they were having an orgasm just swinging their pick-axes. It was that kind of a ridiculous ode to Freud that made things trivial and corny.
It opens with an elderly bourgeois groom Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz) carrying his child bride Eva (Hedy Lamarr) over the threshold, but on that wedding night proving to be impotent and uncaring. Hedy files for divorce and returns to her parents’ country horse farm to wait for the final separation. To relieve her anxiety, Eva becomes an active outdoors sports person. While swimming nude in a desolated lake, she leaves her clothes on her horse. But the horse gallops off with her clothes when spotting another horse. Eva runs nude through the woods after the horse. Field laborer Adam (Aribert Mog) comes to her rescue, as he runs down the horse on foot. From thereon Eva experiences prole lovemaking as ecstasy, and ends up marrying Adam and having his child when the disconsolate Emile commits suicide.
The movie makes everything out to be sexual–from politics to romance to the hay fields. Its idea of love is too silly to be taken seriously and it only mildly heats up as a kind of soft-core porn film that’s more effete than steamy. It just doesn’t live up to its cause celebre rep, but I guess for 1933 it might seem progressive in its guilt-free sexual attitude towards women and it has limited value for those odd experimental angle shots it achieves in its photography (basically the same kind of heavy-handed shots the Russians used to wax poetic about the proles and their revolution).
REVIEWED ON 8/31/2006 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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