It has the lack of naturalism of most of Garbo’s films, as it creates that special universe of beauty and gentleness and romance, you know what I mean. And it also has the look of a silent film, except for some great shots here and there. I never took it too seriously, but it was an ok, pleasant very old-fashioned (big plus to some) experience.
Greta Garbo as Marguerite Gautier
Everybody seems to love and praise this performance and consider it to be Greta’s best and an alltime classic. I even received an almost-hate-message when I posted my words on Camille on the other blog, because of my lack of enthusiasm. I stay detached from such praise and passion, but get I caught up in my own subjectivity baggage. I am not an admirer of Garbo as an actress. I LOVE the movie star she was, her mysterious persona, but a bit less her technique on screen.
Greta plays Marguerite Gautier, a beautiful, kind-hearted but careless French courtesan who falls for a very different, noble young man, but in the end she has to sacrifice it all for his well-being. It’s a very glamorous role, even when she has to play sick and it fits Garbo well, even though it’s the kind of role that would allow many different points of views. It’s a high-class look at this ancient subject matter.
I’m sure many recall her best in this, because she gets to wear all those pretty dresses, and to her own credit she does it wonderfully. She looks good and her aristocratic way of being serves the character well. There are moments in the film when she really shines; really shines and those scenes help create a character so likeable for a couple of seconds or minutes. I don’t like Marguerite, but when Garbo smiles or flirts, I get caught up in a scene and she does it great.
Her most delightful scenes are when she’s having fun: the theatre scene, the happy moments in the countryside, the flirting after the party. These are moments of greatness when Garbo lets loose and plays around, you can even feel it on her face, the expressions of bad girl or pure joy come to life in a perfect manner.
Even her theatricality works, in the scenes where she plays the spoiled side of Marguerite. She acts well with some unreadable lines, but unfortunately doesn’t always control her garboness. Though the scene with Barrymore is done mostly well, impeccable towards the end, it’s the more dramatic side of her acting where I went disappointed.
I can blame the script sometimes, but then again: it often feels like she forgets this is not a silent film, so it would’ve worked so much better for her, had she toned down the over-dramatic face expressions and all that staginess that she sometimes brought to a scene. I know: it’s Greta Garbo (!) and this is her thing, but it often wasn’t on my taste. The tears were in place, but I lacked a certain natural feeling that would’ve had me more connected to that certain scene (most of the ones shared with Robert Taylor and obviously the final one).
I know it’s a question of preference and inclination to a certain style of acting, but I would hardly call this performance an alltime best. That being said, I enjoyed Garbo’s performance a lot (really!) in those chill, flirty scenes. She gave too much, when a bit less would’ve done more, especially with the passion of the line readings. This Garbo theatrical overacting is hard to explain and different from other types, so you must see it to believe it. A glorious unbalanced performance: , I guess.
Tomorrow or on Sunday I’ll post my conclusions for 1937. Let’s digest Garbo first. :)