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illusions

Another classic but lesser-known Billy Wilder film, 'A Foreign Affair' (1948) was criticized when it came out for "moral bankruptcy", but seeing it today it's the film's compassion and humanity that stand out. As a screenwriter and director, Wilder had great wisdom in showing his characters' greed, hypocrisy and corruption without judgment, except to joke about it in a refreshingly irreverent way.

In this case, Wilder creates a comedy set in the ruins of post-WWII Berlin, in a country full of "open graves and closed hearts". The film was largely shot on location, showing just how extensive the devastation of the city really was. It provides a fitting backdrop to the story, a romantic comedy with an undertone of post-war cynicism and moral ambiguity. As always, the plot is beautifully crafted, and the dialogue is incredibly sharp and witty ("Let's go up to my apartment. It's only a few ruins away from here.").

Marlene Dietrich in A Foreign Affair

The iconic Marlene Dietrich stars as a German nightclub singer (what else?), a survivor who used to hang out in high Nazi circles and is now equally comfortable among American officers. (When asked about her dubious past, she replies that for women politics are like fashion.) Among the film's highlights are her performances of 'Black Market', 'In the Ruins of Berlin', and the haunting 'Illusions', which perfectly sums up the weariness of a war survivor.

Want to buy some illusions,
Slightly used, second hand?
They were lovely illusions,
Reaching high, built on sand.
They had a touch of paradise,
A spell you can't explain:
For in this crazy paradise,
You are in love with pain.

Want to buy some illusions,
Slightly used, just like new?
Such romantic illusions -
And they're all about you.
I sell them all for a penny,
They make pretty souvenirs.
Take my lovely illusions -
Some for laughs, some for tears.

Watch the scene.

See also this 1948 New York Times review.

Recommended:

the lost weekend

How do all Billy Wilder 's films manage to stay so fresh and sharp? The Apartment , Some Like It Hot , Sunset Boulevard ... -- they just don't seem to age or lose any of their power. And now The Lost Weekend , from 1945 (!), which… Read the full post »

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