Film 21: M

M (1931) dir. Fritz Lang. Germany.

When you watch “M,” you see a hatred for the Germany of the early 1930s that is visible and palpable. Apart from a few perfunctory shots of everyday bourgeoisie life (such as the pathetic scene of the mother waiting for her little girl to return from school), the entire movie consists of men seen in shadows, in smokefilled dens, in disgusting dives, in conspiratorial conferences. And the faces of these men are cruel caricatures: Fleshy, twisted, beetle-browed, dark-jowled, out of proportion. One is reminded of the stark faces of the accusing judges in Dreyer’s “Joan of Arc,” but they are more forbidding than ugly.

What I sense is that Lang hated the people around him, hated Nazism, and hated Germany for permitting it. His next film, “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” (1933), had villains who were unmistakably Nazis. It was banned by the censors, but Joseph Goebbels, so the story goes, offered Lang control of the nation’s film industry if he would come on board with the Nazis. He fled, he claimed, on a midnight train — although Patrick McGilligan’s new book,Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, is dubious about many of Lang’s grandiose claims.

— Roger Ebert

Abigail: Holy cow.  From the very first shot through to our introduction to the shadow of the murderer I don’t think I breathed. This is absolutely amazing and an amazingly universal parable.  The film focuses not on the titular murderer, but the way that his crimes affect the society he is terrorizing.  The murders are not shown, but that somehow makes them more graphic than they possibly could have been by highlighting the reactions of the world.  This is just a spectacular film.  It clearly influenced a ton of movies, but it is still somehow better than any of them.

Forrest: Wow. This isn’t just one of the best films we’ve seen yet, this is one of the best films ever made. It may be a perfect movie. It’s tight, suspensful, made with total economy, and gives every character a voice. It is a protest film, an anti-Nazi tract, and also a deeply humanist look at law and justice. It’s beautiful. Watch it.

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