Brisbane International Film Festival 2021
The Discreet Charm of Ernst Lubitsch

21 Oct 2021 – 31 Oct 2021 | GOMA | Cinema A

In partnership with the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) – now managed by Gold Coast’s Film Fantastic Ltd – QAGOMA presents five classic films from revered German-American filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch.

“Lubitsch? He invented the modern Hollywood.” – Jean Renoir

Cinema has never been the same, since legendary actress and producer Mary Pickford invited Ernst Lubitsch (1892 - 1947) to Hollywood in 1922.

Already famed for his historical spectacles and (subversive) romantic comedies in Germany, Lubitsch was one of the very first European masters to bring a continental sensibility and a sense of subtle eroticism to Hollywood. His sophisticated view on romance, sexuality, and marital issues, is liberating and is still remarkably modern. Charlie Chaplin was most impressed: “He could do more to show the grace and humour of sex in a nonlustful way than any director I’ve ever heard of.”

The son of a Russian Jew who immigrated to Germany and started a tailor shop, Lubitsch was not interested in inheriting the family business. Instead, he had a strong interest in theatre, and quickly became an actor in the theatre of the great Max Reinhardt, who had an enduring influence on his cinematic style.

Lubitsch’s cinema is one of wit, humour, and maturity, as he observes high society and human foibles with a little bit of cynicism and playfulness, and a great deal of intelligence, in a simplistic, elegant style that is replete with innuendos. He trusted that the intelligence of his audience would allow them to marvel at his intricate social puzzles. Whilst seduction, courting, flirting, and mènage a trois are common in his films, relationships are always portrayed with a light-hearted complexity; ultimately, these films are about the joy of life, and the pleasure of living it to the fullest.

The famous sign on Billy Wilder’s office door reads, “How would Lubitsch do it?” The celebrated “Lubitsch touch” might have been coined as a publicity slogan at the beginning, but it truly came to signify his mysterious ingenuity. One can write extensively on this subject, but a key feature of the Touch is a brilliant way of “saying something without saying it”. Most of Lubitsch’s Hollywood films were made while the Production Code was rigorously enforced. The necessity to be inventive to get pass censorship became a delightful challenge, and certainly contributed to his creative portrayal of amorous relationships and love triangles. The Lubitsch sophistication extends to a mise-en-scene that makes remarkable use of space, framing, movement, and in particular, doors, to articulate intricate human relationships.

This modest tribute begins tracing Lubitsch’s legacy with one of the most endearing silent films of his German period, and features five of his finest accomplishments in Hollywood. Let’s immerse ourselves in his elegant world of codes and gestures, passion and intrigue, and above all, wit.

Program curated by Kiki Fung.

For further information regarding ticketing the Festival’s full program, from 21-31 Oct, visit the BIFF website.