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Murnau's visually-stunning epic of love and hate, faith and temptation, good and evil
ackstasis12 July 2007
To fans of early horror, director F.W. Murnau is best known for 'Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens,' his chilling 1922 vampire film, inspired by Bram Stoker's famous novel. However, his equally impressive 'Faust' is often overlooked, despite some remarkable visuals, solid acting, a truly sinister villain, and an epic tale of love, loss and evil. The story concerns Faust (Gösta Ekman), an old and disheartened alchemist who forms a pact with Satan's evil demon, Mephisto (Emil Jannings). As God and the Devil wage a war over Earth, the two opposing powers reach a tentative agreement: the entire fate of Mankind will rest on the soul of Faust, who must redeem himself from his selfish deeds before the story is complete.

Relying very heavily on visuals, 'Faust' contains some truly stunning on screen imagery, most memorably the inspired shot of Mephisto towering ominously over a town, preparing to sow the seeds of the Black Death. A combination of clever optical trickery and vibrant costumes and sets makes the film an absolute delight to watch, with Murnau employing every known element – fire, wind, smoke, lightning – to help produce the film's dark tone. Double exposure, in which a piece of film is exposed twice to two different images, is used extremely effectively, being an integral component in many of the visual effects shots. In fact, aside perhaps from Victor Sjöström's 'Körkarlen (1921),' I can't remember double exposure being used to such remarkable effect.

It's often difficult to judge performances in a silent film, but I've certainly got a generally positive attitude towards the acting in 'Faust.' I was particularly astonished by Gösta Ekman, whose character, given limitless evil control, is transformed from a withering old man to a handsome youth. Despite my impression that two different actors had been used, it seems that Ekman convincingly portrayed both the old and young man, which is a credit to both the actor and Murnau's make-up department (namely, Waldemar Jabs). Emil Jannings plays Mephisto with a sort of mysterious slyness, always one step ahead and always up to no good. Whilst I wasn't completely blown away by young actress Camilla Horn as Gretchen – the woman with whom Faust falls in love – her acting is adequate enough, and she certainly shows some very raw emotion in the scene's final act, when her forbidden romance with Faust sends her life in a downward spiral.

'Faust' was F.W. Murnau's final film in Germany, his next project being the acclaimed American romance, 'Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927).' At the time, the film was the most expensive ever made by the German studio, UFA (Universum Film AG), though it would be surpassed the following year by Fritz Lang's classic science-fiction epic, 'Metropolis.' Notably, there were five substantially different versions of 'Faust' produced, several of these by the director himself: these include a German original version, a French version, a late German version, a bilingual version for European audiences, and an American cut compiled by Murnau especially for MGM in July 1926. Each of these altered particular scenes and camera angles, and often included material that would be more relevant to the target cultural audience (for example, the US version reportedly contains a joke about the American Prohibition era).

At the heart of 'Faust' is a love story between the corrupted title character and his doomed love, Gretchen. I felt that the scenes when Faust is trying to coax Gretchen into loving him were the slowest parts of the film, much less exciting and invigorating than the darker and more effects-driven sequences that preceded and followed it. Nevertheless, F.W. Murnau's 'Faust' is an absolute gem of 1920s silent horror, and anybody who doesn't look out for it is very surely missing out on something special.
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A great film by Murnau
Bobs-915 November 2000
I think of Murnau's Faust as a masterpiece not only of cinema, but of the human imagination. I understand that reviews at the time of its premier were lukewarm, but I honestly can't imagine not feeling grateful for the opportunity to see this film today. Moments and images from it are so powerful, they are vivid in the mind years after seeing them -- two hours in a dream world.

The flying sequence has been commented-on more than once, and with good reason. It is a spectacular series of shots wherein the camera tracks through long miniature sets which gradually change from a dense cluster of medieval rooftops and steeples, to a tortuous countryside of mountain peaks and snake-like rivers, twisted trees, deep gorges with plunging waterfalls and stone cliffs, rapids, a field of long grass, elaborate renaissance architecture and an Italianate palace. Along the way there is an encounter with grotesque elongated black birds in the sky, their wings flapping in unison. The sets incorporate running water (with little bits of smoking material floating in the rapids to simulate splashes and spray), an illuminated moon, and smoke to simulate clouds and fog. The whole sequence can't be much more than a couple of minutes long, but the effort to design, construct and coordinate the sequence must have been staggering. The following palace scene is set on a huge multi-level set with female dancers stretching off into the distance. They are there for no better reason than to establish an atmosphere of sumptuous decadence, and young Faust arrives in the middle of this riding between two enormous elephants, which seem to be entirely artificial and crafted of fabric, wire, etc. So it goes throughout the production. Almost every scene is a feast for the eyes, and the darker scenes are vividly expressionistic in design.

The acting is the old-fashioned silent-movie variety of big operatic gestures and vivid facial expression. It may seem odd to those not used to it, but it is NOT an example of ham actors overdoing it. This was a legitimate style of acting in its time, and offers genuine artistic beauty to those who can manage to appreciate it.

The fact that there seems to be no video version of `Faust' at the time of this posting is criminal. Ditto for Murnau's "Sunrise." These things should NEVER be out of print.
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A magnificent spectacle; one of cinema's finest
The_Void9 January 2005
F.W. Murnau's telling of the classic German legend, 'Faust' is a masterpiece to behold. From both the technical and story standpoint, the film excels and despite being nearly eighty years old, Faust still stands tall as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time. F.W. Murnau has become best known among film fans for 'Nosferatu', but this is unfair to the man. While Nosferatu is something of an achievement; it pales in comparison to this film in every respect. Faust is far more extravagant than Murnau's vampire tale, and it shows his technical brilliance much more effectively. The story is of particular note, and it follows a German alchemist by the name of Faust. As God and Satan war over Earth, the Devil preaches that he will be able to tempt Faust into darkness and so has a wager with God to settle things. Satan sends Mephisto to Earth to offer Faust an end to the plague that is making it's way through the local population, and eternal youth, in return for Faust's soul...

The way that Murnau creates the atmosphere in the film is nothing short of amazing. The lighting and use of shadows is superb, and helps to create a strong sense of dread at the same time as making the film incredibly easy on the eyes. It's the music that's the real star of the show, however, as it's absolutely fantastic and easily ranks up with the greatest scores ever written. The scenery is expressionistic and gives the film a strong sense of beauty (which is increased by the excellent cinematography), especially in the darker scenes; all of which are an absolute delight to behold. The story is undoubtedly one of the most important ever written, and within it is themes of good, evil, religion and most importantly, love. The points are never hammered home, and instead they are allowed to emancipate from the centre of the tale, which allows the audience to see them for themselves rather than being told; and that's just the way a story should be.

It's hard to rate the acting in silent cinema as being a member of a modern audience, I'm used to actors acting with dialogue and judging a performance without that is difficult. However, on the other hand; silent acting is arguably more difficult than acting with dialogue as the only way to portray your feelings to the audience is through expressions and gestures, and in that respect; acting is just another area where this film excels. In fact, there isn't an area that this film doesn't excel in and for that reason; it easily ranks up with the greatest films ever committed to the screen.
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Visually Stunning Classic
spacemonkey_fg16 June 2005
Title: FW Murnaus Faust (1926)

Director: FW Murnau

Cast: Gosta Ekman, Camilla Horn, Emil Jannings, William Dieterle Review:

Having seen Murnaus Nosferatu and having enjoyed it immensely I had to check out some of his other films. Faust quickly caught my attention. After Murnau made Nosferatu, he was given the opportunity to do whatever film he wanted..and they gave him the huge budget to do it. The result was an impressive, visually stunning, supernatural film.

God and the Devil are fighting for who gets to control humanity. They do a wager, they decide that if Satan (aka as Mephisto) can corrupt Faust then all of humanity would belong to Mephisto. After the wager is on, Mephisto spreads the plague throughout Fausts town and people start dying. He decides to call upon the powers of darkness to help people out.

First off, more then anything, this movie is a true visual feast. How Murnau made this movie with the limited resources he had at the time is a true testament to his talent as a filmmaker. Heck, it was 1926, before make up fx, before stan winston, before blue screens and CGI, before anything! Yet, he managed to create an incredibly rich film. Heck this guy even managed to do a crane shot in the movie! In a scene where Faust and Mephisto are flying through the sky's...the camera swoops over a landscape filled with waterfalls, mountains and cliffs...all in one shot! I was actually amazed how with their limited technological resources Murnau managed to do this type of shot back in those days.

The imagery is amazing...starting with Mephisto spreading his gigantic black wings over Fausts small town. I kid you not when I say that, that image is one of the coolest images I have ever seen on any movie. Images of the horsemen of the apocalypse riding the sky's....angels with swords, Faust conjuring up Mephisto by reading from his book...man this movie was really something to behold. Its all wrapped around that black and white aura that gives the film that eerie feel. Kinda like the same feeling I got when I watched White Zombie. I love black and white horror visuals. And Faust was full of them.

Of special interest to me was that scene where Faust conjures up Mephisto by reading some words from a book, its truly a great movie moment with an incredible supernatural feel. The visuals of those circles of light emanating from the ground up towards the sky...that was amazing. And actually I think that scene influenced Francis Ford Copolla in Bram Stokers Dracula because he uses the exact same image of circles of light emerging from the ground.

Faust fantastical imagery truly demonstrates that Murnau had complete and total control over everything that he showed on the screen. The snow, the wind, the shadows, the lights...all perfectly handled to create the exact mood and feel that was required at them moment. Its quite obvious as well that this movies benefited from a much much bigger budget then Murnaus previous films. The sets look a lot like those on Caligari at times, the detailed miniatures are very well achieved and the extras are plentiful.

The performances are great, better then in Nosferatu. They are sometimes a bit exaggerated, but not as much as in other silent films I've seen before. On this one, the performances seemed just right to me. Of special mention is Emil Jannings as Mephisto. This guy played Beelzebub with some real relish. The character comes off as evil, treacherous, calculating...and he does it all with this smirk on his face. Great character. The make up on him is great and he kinda reminded me at times of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. But overall, hes performance was the best in the film. I also really enjoyed Camilla Horn as Gretchen, her scenes with her baby in the snow were great not only in the acting department but visually as well.

Overall, Id recommend this movie to those of you interested in German silent cinema. Its really something to see how even in those days, the imagination and creativity was there. And even the limited technological resources couldn't hold them back from creating a truly beautiful, haunting, spooky, supernatural film. For those of you who enjoyed films like Murnaus Nosferatu or Robert Wienes The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari then you will most certainly love Faust.

I would certainly say it is far superior to the films mentioned before, yet for some reason doesn't get as much recognition. Check it out schmoes for a slice of the best horror silent cinema ever. Definitely worth a look.

Rating: 5 out of 5
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"A wager: I will wrest Faust's soul away from God"
chaos-rampant18 February 2009
By 1925 UFA, German cinema's pioneer production company, was almost collapsing under the weight of mounting financial difficulties, having lost over eight million dollars in the fiscal year just ended. It was at this point that American film studios found the perfect opportunity they've been looking for to finally defeat their one opponent in the market of continental Europe. It was ironic that a film industry born out of the necessity of WWI and Germany's inability to provide American, British or French films in the years between 1914 and 1919 would go on to become Hollywood's number one opponent. Indeed Paramount and MGM offered to subsidize UFA's huge debt to the Deutsche Bank by lending it four million dollars at 7.5 percent interest in exchange for collaborative rights to UFA's studios, theaters, and personnel - an arrangement which clearly worked in the American companies' favor. The result was the foundation of the Parufamet (Paramount-UFA-Metro) Distribution Company in early 1926.

This is only tangential to FAUST but important nonetheless to place the film in its correct historical context. Both as FW Murnau's last German film before he left for Hollywood and as UFA's most expensive production to that date. It is no wonder that within a year of accepting Hollywood as business partners, UFA was already showing losses of twelve million dollars and was forced to seek another loan, when FAUST, a film that cost them 2 million dollars alone and took six months to film only made back half of its budget at the box office. FAUST would go on to be succeeded by Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS as the most expensive German production but it remained FW Murnau's aufwiedersehen to Weimar cinema. He was one of many German film artists and technicians that migrated to sunny California following the Parufamet agreement (Fritz Lang would follow a few years later, having refused Goebbels' offer to lead the national film department for Nazi Germany, along with others like Paul Leni, Billy Wilder, Karl Freund and Ernst Lubitsch).

Weimar cinema wouldn't make it past the 1930's and FW Murnau's career would come to an abrupt end with his death at 42 in a car accident, but FAUST, as the last German production, not only in nationality, but also in style and finesse, definitely deserves its place next to 1922's NOSFERATU in the pantheon of German Expressionism. Frontloaded in terms of spectacle and dazzling visuals, this retelling of Goethe's classic version of Dr. Faust's story is as slow paced and dark as Nosferatu but with the kind of fantastic, mystical and romantic blend that characterized German post-war cinema. A cinema aimed at repressed lower middle-classes which, in the absence of a national identity swept away by war, were now turning to a new cultural identity conscious of the social realities of the times. In that sense, Murnau's Faust is part escapism spectacle, part edifying fable on the corruption of evil and the redeeming qualities of love and forgiveness.

And if the story is overwrought melodrama by today's standards, the magnificent sets constructed by UFA technicians and special effects work stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the best from the 20's. Mephisto looming black and gigantic over a town swept by plague is an iconic image etched on the same pantheon wall of German Expressionism as Count Orlok's shadow. The angels of death riding on their horses with beams of light shooting through them combines the dark fantasy of the production design with expressive lighting, the kind of which would eventually become shaped into film noir by directors like Otto Preminger and Fritz Lang. Gösta Ekman as Faust (superbly made-up as an old man to make even Welles green with envy) and Emil Jannings as Mephisto stand out among the cast.
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A must see film
aqua_swing30 May 2005
My first silent film lasted over two hours. Dialog full of screens after everything's been said. To be honest, I was surprised at how there was never a point of down, there was never a realization that I was watching a silent film, though it did take a bit of getting used to in the beginning. Some might get pushed away due to the fact that the screen transfer isn't great, or that the music has been recently dubbed, but I found it all to fit perfectly. The acting in this film is more than over expectation, that made me believe in the story from start to finish. By the end I had a new found admiration for the makers of movies from our past, and what standards they can set for movies now.
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desperateliving28 August 2003
A lyrical fable version of Goethe's famous story, where Mephisto and an angel gamble with Faust's spirit, the entire film has an aura of delicate beauty. When Faust's town is shrouded with a pestilence, Faust summons Mephisto and agrees to a trial selling of his soul, in the hopes that he can save the townspeople. When Faust does indeed cure the town, Mephisto tempts him with the promise of youth and Gretchen, the most beautiful woman in Italy. Misty, often eerie, fiendish imagery, like satanic birds, hooded men, flying horsemen and Caligari-inspired exteriors fill the screen. When Faust signs his contract, the words burn themselves into the page as Mephisto dips his feather pen in Faust's vein. A wonderful touch near the beginning has Faust trying to escape Mephisto but having him appear wherever he goes, always a few steps ahead. Both Faust, as a young man, and Gretchen are lovely, and Jannings gives an excellent performance as the Dark Prince. A masterpiece of poetic atmosphere that ages Murnau's technical mastery wondrously, the film is aided tremendously by the sometimes ominous, sometimes enchanting orchestral score. 10/10
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A feast to look at.
Boba_Fett113823 April 2005
Faust is a famous German story from Johann Wolfgang Goethe but to be honest I wasn't familiar with it until I saw this movie. Perhaps that's also why I liked the story so much, the movie changes direction time after time and from the beginning on you don't know how it is going to end. A great story of good versus evil in which love conquers all.

What makes the movie very memorable is the visual look of it. The movie is filled with some truly amazing early special effects. F.W. Murnau truly was a master in using convincing early special effects in his movies, some scene's are really impressive. Also the cinematography is spectacular and it has some brilliant lighting.

In many ways the movie was decades ahead of its time. The way the story is told in the movie is unique and spectacular for its period and so is the use of humor in it. All the scene's with Mephisto and Marthe Schwerdtlein were shear comedy brilliance, also mainly thanks to Emil Jannings his acting.

Mephisto himself really was one scary great villain character, especially when the character is first introduced to Faust.

Maybe not entirely a classic masterpiece, the middle and the drama is bit too much dragging and lacking for it but certainly a movie historical important and memorable movie. A F.W. Murnau movie that deserves to be seen by more.


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"Pleasure is Everything"
Spondonman17 September 2006
Faust is my favourite German film, a timeless tale brought to life visually perfect by Murnau in 1926. The photography and special effects although obviously constrained by the prevailing technology was stunning and relentless, a tour de force of camera trickery to bring the power of the story across to Artheads and ordinary folk alike. Trouble is, it's a German b&w silent film so mainly Artheads and a few like me will ever see it for its beauty. Sunrise from a year later takes some beating but Faust does it easily.

The Devil wants to rule so places a morally dubious wager that if he wins Dr. Faust's soul he wins the Earth. Faust falls into the snare and so begins his descent into Hell, along with the woman he has in one night of passion – "No man can resist Evil". After 9/11 can we really be sure who won? There's so many memorable scenes: The Devil lowering over the town (Jannings having to spend hours perched uncomfortably over billowing soot until Murnau was happy with the shot); Faust throwing his books on the fire in his fantastic room (with piles of dangerous nitrate film deliberately going up to help); the un-cgi magic carpet ride; Gretchen with her baby in the snow etc. Ekman and Jannings were especially superb in their respective roles, but everyone and everything played their parts well.

The print is a knockout remaster, the menacing atmosphere whenever Faust or Mephisto are in shot is palpable as was only possible with nitrate film stock. Thoroughly recommended to those even only mildly interested who've never seen it before, one I will hopefully watch repeatedly in the future.
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Liebe. Real Humane Emotions.
ilpohirvonen5 June 2010
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was the most important director of the German expressionism era. He made 22 films from which only 11 have persisted. Murnau often made several different versions of his films, which made it impossible to tell which was the original one. Faust was no exception; he made 9 different versions of it whose editing, rhythm and acting differ from each other. F.W. Murnau did a lot of breakthroughs in cinema - he's the most influential filmmaker of his time. For instance in his earlier film Der Letzte Mann (1924, The Last Laugh) Murnau used the camera as a character for the very first time. It was the first time the audience couldn't tell when you were watching the events as an outsider and when as a character. Faust is no lesser. Eric Rohmer has written about it in his dissertation and Herman G. Weinberg saw Faust as the most beautiful film ever made.

Everybody knows the German writer Goethe who wrote Faust. But the story did live before his play. It lived as a folktale. And this is where the critics did wrong. They thought that Murnau's Faust was a fiasco; probably because they tried to compare it to the original play. But F.W. Murnau did Faust (1926) based on the folktale. So the philosophy of Goethe's Faust was left away. The production company (UFA) of Faust also produced another artistic film, Metropolis by Fritz Lang. When the audience didn't like either of these films the company failed.

Faust is a story about God and Satan who wager. A man, Faust, agrees to sell his soul to Satan so he can have all the power of the world. First he wants to use the power to help the diseased people but the temptations of eternal youth and beauty win. "Damned be the illusion of youth!" Faust is a timeless story because the idea of selling one's soul will always be there. Faustic contracts are still made. There is only one thing that can terminate the contract. Liebe - Love. The flaming word appears on the screen to assure us. Earlier I mentioned the new camera-work of The Last Laugh. But Faust did something new too. It was the first film that was based on the metaphorical force of light and shadow. The use of shadows in Faust is symbolic and brilliant. When talking about light and Murnau one might be reminded of Nosferatu (1922), a Gothic vampire story by F.W. Murnau, where the beams of light killed Nosferatu.

Faust deals with essential and timeless themes. On the surface the themes are good and evil but Faust is much more complex than that. I would recommend this masterpiece of the German Expressionism to all film lovers. I wouldn't be surprised if one said that Faust is the best film ever made. F.w. Murnau manages to capture real humane emotions.
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At the Gates of Darkness
hasosch24 October 2007
F.W. Murnau's "Faust. Eine deutsche Volkssage" (1926) is based on Goethe's "Faust I", the movie takes as direct text basis a libretto written by Hans Kyser which differs remarkably from Goethe's dramatic play. For example, Kyser motivates the physician Dr. Faustus's pact with Mephistopheles through his mercy for the victims of the plague, while in Goethe's work, the basic motivation of Dr. Faustus is the enlargement of his scientific knowledge. It is thus interesting to see that Mephisto or the devil represents the darkness from which all the additional knowledge seems to come which cannot be reached by Dr. Faustus in the world of the light in which God reigns. It is this negativity of the darkness as opposed to the positivity of the light that parallels the dichotomy of Good and Evil as well as the dichotomy of Volition and Cognition. So, Dr. Faustus' fundamental metaphysical attempt is to control the dark empire of the will that cannot be controlled by traditional science settled in the bright empire of the thought. It even seems that negativity stands for reflection, and reflection comes from the darkness that in the same time represents Evil. Moreover, since the Being is defined by the positivity of light, cognition and Good, the negativity of darkness, reflection and will must be defined by the Nothing, since in classical logic there is no third instance between them.

Therefore, we may see Murnau's "Faust" not only as a movie dealing with the ethic categories of Good and Evil, but also with the metaphysical categories of Being and Nothing. Dr. Faustus, signing his league with the devil, opens the curtain that separates the Here and the Beyond, he transgresses a border of no return. When Mephisto promises Dr. Faustus that he may enter the contract "only for one day", it is quite clear why Mephisto can always turn around the hour-glass in order to prolong the lasting of the league: Eternity cannot be split; if you take out a piece of Eternity there will remain still Eternity. Since Dr. Faustus is a human being and hence does not participate in Eternity, it follows that he will not be able to stand in this never-land between the contextures of Good and Evil, of Darkness and Light, of Cognition and Volition, of Being and Nothing, of Here and Beyond. His intermediary position is shown by Murnau in the often overlooked scene where Dr. Faustus, who had meanwhile turned by aid of the devil into a young man, is charming a young Indian princess while a pendulum above them is vacillating between light and darkness.

Murnau must have had in his mind a poly-contextural world when he shows us Mephisto holding the mirror in which the picture of the old Dr. Faustus appears, although he had already turned him into a youth. Not only does the mirror not reflect Mephisto who is holding it, but it reflects the picture of somebody else and even has a memory of the former state of this person. This phenomenon does not fit together at all with traditional logic in which the mirror can be seen as the operator who turns position into negation, falseness into truth and thus operates like a light-switch that, clicked on twice, leads back to the original state, i.e. from light via darkness back to light or from darkness via light back to darkness.

Now, at the end of his life, Dr. Faustus stays in the borderland between light and darkness that cannot be shown at the hand of a light-switch, since this never stops in an intermediary position between light and darkness. Because the light-switch serves as a model for classical logic, we have to deal in Murnau's "Faust" with trans-classical logic and thus with a world in which there are not only the dichotomic contextures Here and Beyond, Being and Nothing, Cognition and Volition, but a never-land as a third instance between them, and thus we read on one of Gerhart Hauptmann's titles the phrase "At the Gates of Darkness", the gates representing this third instance between the dichotomic contextures of classical logic.

When we read on another title toward the end of the movie "Death sets all men free", it is clear, that Dr. Faustus, after having entered the border-land between the Here and the Beyond by signing his pact with Mephisto, is on a trip that can only end in the Darkness, the Nothing and thus his Death. Once somebody has crossed the borderline between the contextures, he is on a trip of no-return. But such an end would fit into classical logic and thus not fit together with all the hints Murnau gives us toward polycontexturality. Murnau therefore needs a third instance between the contextures by which Dr. Faustus can be rescued from Death representing Evil in two-valued classical logic, both belonging to the contexture of the Nothing. Since Evil can only be neutralized by Good, this third instance must come from Good in order to finish Dr. Faustus's life not in the darkness of Evil, but in the light of Good, and this instance is his love to Gretchen. But in order to achieve that, Murnau needs another trick that does not fit into classical logic: Since Dr. Faustus has meanwhile turned back into the old man he was at the beginning of the movie, Gretchen must remember the alter ego of Dr. Faustus as a youngster, and Murnau shows this by fading over the pictures of the two alter egos of Dr. Faustus. In other words: Murnau achieves to establish Love as a third instance between the contextures of Good and Evil by doubling Dr. Faustus' individuality using paradoxically the dichotomic means of classical logic. When Dr. Faustus and Gretchens die together at the stake, they have finished their trip in to the light that leads them out of darkness: "Death sets all men free".
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Gripping and Visually Impressive
Hitchcoc17 September 2001
I was so intrigued with this film. Taking the classic story of the man who sells his soul (initially to benefit humanity). Playing with shadows and religious symbols. Using Emile Jannings "Mephisto" as a three dimensional character, even comedic at times. I think what I like the most was how the middle ages, with the day to day cruelty of pestilence and want, unfolded. Murnau also did some sensational visuals--the apocalyptic visions, the spectre of Satan enshrouding the city, bringing the plague. The character of Faust and his failure to gain love--even though he bargained it away--is very poignant. Faust wants youth but has made a pact. If there is a shortcoming, Faust's debauchery is almost entirely off screen and Mephisto performs all the visible cruelty. The reclamation of the soul needs a little more to pair against. Of course, in many of the Faust presentations, he pays the ultimate price and is not able to repent.
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Interesting & Memorable
Snow Leopard9 September 2004
It's no surprise that F.W. Murnau's film version of "Faust" is so interesting and memorable. It seems almost to be ideal material for his style and skill, and indeed this movie combines the Faust story with plenty of Murnau's own touches. The creative visuals are probably the most impressive aspect of the feature, although Emil Jannings's performance is also impossible to overlook.

The Faust legend is interesting enough simply as a story that it would be easy for a film-maker to focus on the story alone. It would also be easy to glamorize the power of Mephisto and the fascination that it holds for weak minds. But Murnau and Jannings make Mephisto appear interesting, powerful, and clever, while still never obscuring the shabby and hateful nature of his efforts to ensnare Faust. Faust himself faces not only the battle for his soul, but also the even more interesting struggle of making sense of everything.

The early sequences are very effective in setting it all up. The initial temptations that the devil uses to entice Faust are interesting in their own right and also in terms of the larger issues, and the imagery that Murnau uses complements the events very well. It sets the stage nicely for the developments that follow, creating a very well-conceived version of the classic tale.
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Concentrate on the domestic version of the film
Dr_Coulardeau28 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A real miracle that brings this film back to life. 1926 in Germany produced many prodigies. Murnau chose to go back to the old traditional legend, hence to ignore Goethe's double drama and all the subsequent romantic or melodramatic adaptations in the 19th century. He also decided to ignore Marlowe's adaptation from 16th century England. He simplified the traditional tale and only had one simple episode of travelling through time, in this case to some Italian noble beauty that Faust rapes under the influence of some magic. Murnau chose to concentrate on the tale of Gretchen in the second part of the film (which had started with the plague, of course the Black Death) after this Italian trip with elephants and black slaves. He makes it romantic and intense in feeling, though all that feeling is nothing but the result of diabolical magic. Mephistopheles seduces the mother while Faust seduces Gretchen. Mephistopheles also keeps the brother away long enough for Faust to succeed in his seduction. But then Mephistopheles gets on his own route since Faust must be damned for him to recuperate his soul. He gets the brother back to the house in time to find the seducer in his sister's room, but after the mother had found him in the room too and had died of the traumatic shock. Faust kills the brother in the fight that follows. The sister will be then put in the blocks but not executed for fornication. But the winter comes and her baby is born. In the cold and the snow the baby will die of exposure. She will be accused of having killed the baby and then sentenced to burn at the stake. And here Murnau regenerates the tale by making Faust truly in love and coming back to see Gretchen again. He runs in the crowd to be on her passage when she is led to the stake. Mephistopheles makes him old again just when he stands in front of her begging for forgiveness. He is pushed away, unrecognized. She is tied to the stake and set afire. He jumps onto the pyre and into the fire and she sees through his age the young Faust she had been in love with. They die together at the stake. And that brings the final salvation because Faust was not moved by lust only but by real love that made him sacrifice his life, and Gretchen was also moved by love since she was able to recognize the young Faust in the old one, hence to see beyond appearances. The end then is the rejection of Mephistopheles' request to get Faust's soul by God's angel whose wings are wide open in the shape of an enormous heart. Apart from this touching and intense tale, the film is of course marvelously well directed and shot and Murnau chooses too to keep the old framing technique that was natural with the old camera, the picture is systematically fuzzy all around. Today this produces some kind of dreamlike feeling. The music of the DVD is also quite fascinating, in both versions of it, only a harp or a full symphonic orchestra. We must be more than plain grateful when we see all these old films that find a new youth and glory thanks to the DVD.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
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Another Masterpiece of the German Expressionism
claudio_carvalho26 September 2003
Mephisto (Satan) bets with God that he can get the soul of Faust, a bright and studious man. If Mephisto corrupts Faust, all mankind would belong to him. The first part of this film is related to this pact. Then, with Faust young and handsome, he seduces Gretchen, and the second part of this movie is related to the tragedy of Gretchen. The last scene, with the redemption of Faust, is also wonderful. Yesterday I watched Faust on DVD for the first time. This is another a masterpiece of the history of the cinematographic industry and of the German Expressionism. The lighting, shadows, effects and photography are amazing for a 1926 movie. I read in the biography of the outstanding Morneau that he fought as a pilot in the World War I and died in 1931, with 43 years old, in a car accident. What a loss for the culture of the world! Emil Jannings as Mephistoles is fantastic, alternating evil and wickedness with funny situations. Faust with his regret has a great performance and the despair of Gretchen (a very beautiful woman) is touching. I only regret that the DVD released in Brazil has not restored the images. My vote is ten.
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A living dream
didi-55 November 1998
FW Murnau's 'Faust', made in Germany, is a wonderful film. The version I saw had a beautiful piano accompaniment, which certainly helped, but any musical accompaniment would do just as well.

Emil Jannings' performance as Mephistopheles is just superb - mocking, playful, frightening. Camilla Horn and Wilhelm Dieterle (who later became a respected Hollywood film director) are also good value as the sister and brother who fall foul of the young Faust's amorality.

The film is funny, moving, and effective. It looks stunning, it is like having a dream which assaults the senses at every turn. A true gem which I would recommend anyone to see.
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In a great modern myth, desperate doctor strikes a pact with the devil.
bdonovan-348-56680920 April 2012
Two great European myths emerged from the early modern period, despite its being a time of print culture: that of the great seducer, Don Juan, and that of Faust, the frustrated intellectual who strikes a pact with Hell. These are myths in the sense that they are the exclusive property of no individual author, but belong in common to the whole culture (as Murnau's subtitle, calling this a "Volkssage," reminds us); and as such they are susceptible to wide variations in the telling. The tale of Faust began humbly enough (by literary standards) in the anonymous German *Faustbuch*, which, quickly translated into English, soon became the basis for one of Kit Marlowe's greatest plays. After that brief emergence into high culture it went low-brow again, becoming a staple of German puppet theater, and wall-paintings in beer-cellars like Auerbach's in Leipzig. Lessing saw its possibilities, and Goethe (who had drunk at Auerbach's as a student) realized them in the greatest work of German literature--on which he lavished much of a very long life. Goethe's work inspired Romantic artists including not only Byron (as in "Manfred") but also opera composers ranging from Ludwig Spohr to Hector Berlioz, Charles Gounod, and Arrigo Boito.

Murnau's splendid (and now splendidly restored) silent film takes its cues primarily from the Goethe and Gounod versions, but goes its own way too, as is quite right. Goethe, after all, was writing a "closet drama," that is, a play meant to be read rather than performed and seen in a theater (though the first of its two parts is widely considered stage-able); but Murnau was creating a photo-play in which any words had to be in the form of disruptive title screens; and so the verbal component, which for Goethe was the whole, had in film to be kept to a bare minimum. This underlies and justifies many of Murnau's departures from Goethe's splendid precedent--departures that offended me when I first saw this film many years ago, in a far inferior version, but that I now see the reason and justification for. In any case, those of us who are familiar with Goethe's *Faust* (as Germans tend to be) are seeing a rather different movie here from the one that others see--for better and/or for worse.

From Goethe (himself borrowing from *Job*) this film takes the notion of a background wager between Heaven and Hell, here providing that if Faust falls, spiritually, Hell gets to rule the whole earth. This being a film from Germany a quarter of the way through the twentieth century (which Al Pacino, as the Devil in *Devil's Advocate,* memorably characterizes as "all mine"), the terms of the wager provide no sure clue which side will win it. The *Faustbuch,* Marlowe, and Berlioz all consign Faust to Hell at the end; Goethe, Gounod, and Boito all redeem him. What will this film do? Find out!

The emphasis on "youth" (as the main desideratum for which Faust bargains with the devil), and the disproportionate (relative to Goethe) emphasis on the love story with Gretchen, both show influence from the Gounod opera. An example of Murnau's departing from both precedents is having Mephisto himself commit a murder that in both Goethe and Gounod he manipulates Faust into committing; but the underlying idea, that Mephisto is prepping Faust for Hell and damnation by leading him to despair of salvation, is rightly maintained. Also, where Goethe has Faust recall a plague when his and his father's medical science utterly failed to help people, Murnau makes that plague present, and Faust's inability to help is the immediate cause of his spiritual desperation. A maiden who appeals in vain to the aged Faust for medical help (for her mother) is a near look-alike to Gretchen, a nice touch.

Jannings is a splendidly louche, unhandsome devil (here named "Mephisto," the only name bestowed upon this character in actual dialog in Goethe, though speech prefixes give "Mephistopheles"). His tactics are ingeniously contrived to keep outright magic to a minimum, relying on spiritual cunning instead. Camilla Horn seems too much the stock silent heroine early on, but grows mightily as Gretchen suffers. Gösta Ekman as the title character is perhaps weaker in his young guise, but his ability (with great help from makeup) to represent both old Faust and young is breathtaking.

Makeup in general is too stagy for the frequent sharply focused closeups, so that we see it AS makeup. For special effects, shots of the apocalyptic horsemen, and shots of Mephisto and Faust on the back of some rough beast supposedly carrying them through the sky, may induce some cringes; but otherwise the quality is astonishingly high for the period, with model sets exquisitely designed, built, dressed, and photographed. The soundtrack of the 1997 restored version features only one each of cello, trumpet, violin, clarinet, and piano, and so sounds a bit thin, and also rather repetitious, but it is enlivened by intelligent quotations from both Gounod's opera and Schubert's setting (from Goethe) of "Gretchen am Spinnrade."
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A Visually Amazing Great Supernatural Film!
Chance2000esl17 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
You will never see cinematography like this in a sound or color film! Murnau's 'Nosferatu' (1925) pales in comparison to this visually fantastic masterpiece!

The first half is a perfect supernatural tale of God and the Devil (Mephisto) wagering over the soul of man: if Mephisto can win Faust, all of Earth belongs to Satan. It is shown and told with such amazing photography, sets and acting. Check out the other reviews that describe the wonderment of all its stunning shots in detail. The final scenes are masterful as well: the death of Gretchen's baby and Faust's final salvation.

Emil Jannings is so great as Mephisto it looks like the Devil is a sure winner. He steals every scene he's in, whether he's pure evil, puckish, Satanic or clownish. "The Snake Has All The Lines!" No wonder he was the first actor to receive a Best Actor Oscar! It made me want to see his other classic, 'The Last Laugh' (1924).

The musical soundtrack perfectly matches the action and mood of every scene. Great!

But---the middle really drags on too long as a love story between the now young and handsome Faust and the beautiful Gretchen, and there are some needless scenes of Mephisto being pestered by Marguerite's aunt seeking to be his wife.

The movie picks up again in the last third as Gretchen is condemned for her affair with Faust, who sacrifices himself for her, and Mephisto loses the bet.

The film is so staggeringly made we can forgive the boring middle parts, but I can only give it a 9, not a 10.
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A huge mistake to include the second part of Goethe's epic.
BassLightyear2 September 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Goethe's "Faust" is so heavily dialogue-oriented, that adapting it onto the silent screen with title cards is just not a good idea. And it shows - F.W. Murnau's "Faust" is a flitting mess of story relay. While the first part translates beautifully onto the screen - which this film showcases brilliantly - the second part begins with a 50 minute drag (that's half the film!) before it picks up again, and should have been re-written for the screen - or simply cut.

There's no clear spine to carry the protagonist from the beginning to the end. What is the film about? A bet between an angel and the devil? Faust's struggle with the plague? Or his struggle with his god? Or his struggle with the girl he falls in love with? It seems as if the film is about the latter, which makes very little sense in the big picture. I mean why deviate from the plague/god story? Especially when the only sensible storyline then becomes the bet between the angel and the devil. Which would have been fine... except that it's also inconsistent. And it doesn't even mean anything since the angel just made up a rule to end the story on... which is also cheap. I mean there's little to no foreshadowing; no secrets; no mystery; no increasing risks (except the during the last minutes of the film). Just to mention a few of the flaws in the structural integrity of the story. (I mean what's the deal with reaching the story climax within the first 30 minutes of the film (getting Faust to give up his heavenly allegiance)? Ok, so the story changes and it becomes a Redemption Plot, but Faust never really redeem himself, he just falls in love. So the controlling idea of the story is "Our protagonist redeemed himself and saved the whole world from damnation... by falling in love." I don't buy it.)

This film is half-saved by F.W. Murnau's skillful directing and Carl Hoffmann's beautiful cinematography. And the visuals in this film is actually quite remarkable for the era. But unfortunately, when the story suffers as much as it does here, no directing and cinematography can save it - not matter how brilliantly executed.

A beautiful, but boring, film. 5/10
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You've tasted all of life's pleasures yet nothing satisfies you
BlueSkies76531 August 2019
One of the earlier cinematic works on evil. A man falls for the tricks of an evil, sadistic entity. What makes this movie special is that there were less tools to use to make a film in the 1920s, resulting in an unique movie experience. I watched the version with the added orchestra music from 1995 so it wasn't a truly authentic experience but the visuals remain the same.

A black and white movie where interactions are expressed non-verbally with the written word occasionally popping up. The film quality and lack of color also gives it a bleak feel, very fitting for the dire situation Faust finds himself in. Well-acted, especially by the actors who portray Mephisto, Faust and Gretchen. The evil just oozed from Mephisto while there's a sense of innocence and despair with Faust and Gretchen.

Faust is also a great story. It's a scary movie but the fright comes from Mephisto's cunning and seeing him step by step manipulate Faust to get into situations where he suffers more and more.

Overall I thought it was an interesting movie experience mostly because of the way the movie was made with the possibilities in filmmaking available in the 1920s.
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The Best of H.W. Murnau
ncruz-7799611 July 2019
F.W. Murnau was a famous German director during the silent film era. And he was one of the best silent film directors of all time. Famous for films like "Nosferatu" (1922), "Sunrise" (1927), "The Last Laugh" (1924) and "Faust" (1926). And in my opinion, all four of those films are some of the greatest of German cinema, and just cinema in general. However, out of the three I mentioned, my favorite by far is "Faust".

Based on a German folk legend, the story of "Faust" tells a wager between the demon Mephisto and God. Mephisto claiming he can corrupt the soul of a man named Faust, and if he succeeds, the Earth is his, but if he fails, he's banished from Heaven. And the story is always so entertaining, as Faust is slowly corrupted by Mephisto, it's just a very nice good and evil story. Mephisto trying to prove that man is evil and easily corruptible, with God claiming man is good. It's definitely a very interestingly written conflict.

And even though it involves God and the Devil, as well as the a lot of Christian imagery. The film is not preachy or really that religious. It doesn't force people to follow God. It's simply a film about human nature. And while there are religious elements, that's not the main focus.

The film has a distinct look, with effects, sets and costumes that were revolutionary for the times. Even today more than 90 years later, they still look impressive, even if you can tell it's not real, you can still be impressed by it. Emil Jannings also does a great job in his role as Mephisto, he brings a certain feel to the character that no piece of fiction has. He's pure evil, and the way he's able to persuade people into doing what he wants is so interesting to watch.

And the main character Faust is very interesting as well. Probably the smartest man in his town, but he's a man faithful to God. And after Mephisto comes and corrupts him. First spreading a plague throughout the town; Faust was overwhelmed, and couldn't save everybody with the power of God. So he was greeted by Mephisto who gave him the power to save everyone. And made him sign a one day trial, later getting him a beautiful woman, and giving his youth back. However, he falls in love with a girl named Gretchen, and he is able to overcome the corruption by the end. And the film easily has one of my favorite endings in cinematic history.

In conclusion, "Faust" is a film rich with style, character and an interesting story. "Faust" is simply an excellently crafted film, and an impressive piece of film history, as well as just a classic of the Silent Era. It's one of my favorite films of the Silent Film Era, one of the best German films ever made, and the best work of H.W. Murnau
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While imperfect, this is still a stunning example of early German cinema.
Hey_Sweden31 December 2018
The legendary play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is adapted by visionary director F.W. Murnau ("Nosferatu") in this remarkable silent, shot through with potent, brooding atmosphere. The story deals with an aged alchemist named Faust (Gosta Ekman) who is losing his faith while God and Satan battle for control of the Earth, and a plague is decimating mankind. Faust makes a deal with a demon named Mephisto (Emil Jannings), one of Satans' emissaries, which will grant him the power to heal. But Faust decides that he also wants his youth back, and the ability to romantically pursue a lovely young woman named Gretchen (Camilla Horn). Mephisto throws a monkey wrench into the plan by interfering, and making sure that things may not end happily for anyone.

While weighed down by the romantic portion of the plot, which ultimately drags too much, "Faust" '26 is marked by a wonderful look and feel. It starts out as beautifully bleak and ominous, with very effective cinematography by Carl Hoffmann. The imagery and visual effects are quite impressive for a film over 90 years old, and the now ages-old device of a character selling their soul to the Devil ensures thematic elements such as human vanity and frailties, and the idea of "being careful what one wishes for". Although the film ceases to be quite as interesting while Faust is aggressively courting Gretchen, it does get back on track for a truly haunting and despairing final half hour, when it becomes necessary for Faust to atone for his big mistake.

The performances are fairly typical for the silent era in that they are highly theatrical, but there's no denying that Jannings is a superb villain. Allowed to play some of his scenes for comedy, he towers over everybody else here with a memorable portrayal of seductive charisma as well as initial creepiness.

The classic theme of Good vs. Evil creates a resonance that has made this tale so powerful for so many decades. If the viewer has previously enjoyed "Nosferatu", they really should check out this film as well.

Seven out of 10.
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Who's on Faust?
bsmith555213 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
"Faust" was an ambitious effort from legendary German director F.W. Murneau to bring this classical tale to the screen. I didn't think it was as good as some of his earlier films but it is memorable nonetheless.

God and Satan are fighting over who will control earth. God's messenger an unnamed Archangel (Werner Fuetterer) and Mephisto (Emil Jannings) each believe that the deserve the honor. They make a wager that Mephisto can bring an aging and respected alchemist named Faust (Gosta Ekmann) over to the side of evil. The wager is Faust's immortal soul.

Mephisto immediately rains down a deadly plague upon Faust's city. People begin to die and panic sets in. Faust prays to God to alleviate the plague as he tries to minister to the sick. Finally he gives up and burns his books in disgust. One of the books shows him the way to summon up the devil to help him. Mephisto is conjured up and appears as an elderly agent of the devil who offers to grant Faust his every wish if he will sign a paper surrendering his soul. The two agree on a one trial period.

As a first wish, Faust asks for his youth to be restored which it is. Mephisto too takes on a more youthful appearance. Then Faust and Mephisto soar over the city to the wedding of the Duke (Eric Barclay) and Duchess (Hanna Ralph) of Parma. There the young Faust offers her priceless gifts. She is mesmerized and goes off with Faust. The Duke tries to intervene but is slain by Mephisto. Just as Faust is about to have his way with the Duchess, the 24 hour trial period ends and the two return to their starting point..

Next Faust asks to be returned to his home town where he meets the lovely young maiden Gretchen (Camilla Horn) frolicking in the garden with the children. She lives with her mother (Frida Richard) and her brother (William Dieterle) who has returned home on leave from the wars. She goes to see her Aunt Marthe (Yvette Guillbert) who sells phony love potions on the side.

Faust takes up with Gretchen eventually getting her into the sack. Mephisto meanwhile goes to her brother and tells him that his sister is being defiled. Mother catches them in the act and dies in shock. The brother returns home and challenges Faust to a duel. The evil Mephisto stabs the brother in the back but before he dies labels his sister as a harlot and asks that she be put on display in the public square. Faust and Mephisto disappear.

It seems that unbeknownst to Faust, he has left Grtechen with child. She wanders through the snow filled streets unable to gain shelter from the saintly townsfolk. The child dies and Gretchen is discovered shivering in the cold. She is charged as a child murderer and is sentenced to be burned at the stake. Fasust learns of her fate and begs Mephisto to let him return to her. But the evil Mephisto turns Faust back into an old man and..................................................

I only have a couple of problems with this film. With Murneau being such a perfectionist, I wonder why he used such obvious miniatures for the city that Faust and Mephisto fly over. They look positively toy like. And, what was the frolicking about between Mephisto and Aunt Marthe all about? It was completely out of context with the rest of the story.

This being the restored German version of the film, the character names are German and not Americanized as in the American version of the film.
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Visually stunning
gbill-748771 November 2018
Visually stunning. The combination of this epic tale, the film being from the silent era, and its elements of German expressionism seems just perfect to me. Director F.W. Murnau creates fantastic special effects with dramatic lighting, and indelible images of Mephistopheles and the Angel. There are so many extraordinary scenes early on. The shot of the demonic skeletal riders, on steeds breathing smoke (or fire?) as they gallop through blustery clouds. Mephisto spreading his ominous wings out over a town slowly, just beginning to eclipse the sun, and about to disperse the plague through ominous black clouds. Faust summoning the Mephisto and the running through the night, coming upon seated strangers, each of whose eyes glow as he doffs his cap calmly. Mephisto creating a maelstrom of fire after covering Faust, in order to give him his youth again. And that's just in the first half hour!

The film takes a little bit of a lighter turn when Mephisto (fantastically played by Emil Jannings) becomes a 'younger version' of himself when he gives Faust (Gösta Ekman) back his youth. He is still as evil as ever, but he now takes a special delight in impish behavior. After helping Faust take away the beautiful Duchess of Parma (Hanna Ralph), he stays behind to duel with the Duke. After letting the Duke think he's stabbed him, feigning death theatrically, he pops up, pulls the sword out of his now ghostlike corpse, and gleefully stabs him back.

We see Faust evolve over the film, starting with being an elderly doctor trying to advance science and medicine to help others. There are elements of the masses that make them less pitiable, both from non-believers who boldly jeer at a holy man imploring them to pray ("We still live! We still love! We shall die dancing in each other's arms!"), as well as by the believers who stone him once they see he cannot look upon a cross, helped by the Devil as he is. When Faust becomes a young man, he first seeks out an erotic vision of beauty, something far less philanthropic. Time must pass because we soon see him bored, with Mephisto asking him what he'd like ("A woman, a game of chance, an orgy?"), and it's clear how he's been spending his time. He then wants to return to his home town, and there sees the virtuous Gretchen (Camilla Horn) who he falls in love with. He seems to be trying to return to a righteous path, perhaps overlooking the fact that he's made a deal with the Devil.

It's here that the film has some issues with pace. It's funny to watch Mephisto flirting with the young woman's aunt (Yvette Guilbert), and the parallel scenes of Faust and Gretchen are tender. A few of the scenes are drawn out just a bit too long however, and this combined with a tone that's lighter compared to the beginning (complete with things like Mephisto popping in and out of scenes mischievously) may put you off a bit. The imagery towards the end is excellent though, with Gretchen's plight, as well as moments like her imagining the group of children making a ring around her once more. The film's final message is powerful as well.
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