The Loves Of Pharaoh

The Loves Of Pharaoh


Reviewed by: Sophie Monks Kaufman

Whatever your opinion on silent epics, it’s hard not to doff your cap to the humungous effort Alpha-Omega Digital GmbH has gone to in order to restore German director Ernst Lubitsch’s Egyptian tragedy. Before this restoration, the drama had not been seen in full since the Thirties. This leave of absence was due to the disparate fates of its various reels - some ended up in Germany, some in Italy and some in Russia.

Lots of exciting highbrow print-dealings (the German Federal Archive traded part of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin for a 35mm tinted nitrate print of the movie held in Russia) and TLC later and all bar 600 metres of the original 2,976 metres of film are available for public consumption.

And how does this industrious jigsaw look? Well, for a start, the missing 600 metres is compensated for with on-set stills and text. Perhaps not to everyone’s tastes but the undeniable jolt reminds you of the determination of all involved to tell this tale by hook or by crook. Other tonal shifts are created by the occasional appearance of footage tinted blazing red or green.

The story itself is a classical exploration of power, love, violence and misery. Life at the bottom of Ancient Egyptian society means toiling at the quarry but at the top it’s not much better, unless you’re into risking your life in battle. No one is safe and no one is sacred. Told across six acts, this tale zeroes in on a beautiful slave, Theonis, caught in a love triangle between the brave and romantic Ramphis, and Amenes, the Pharaoh of Egypt – one of those hard to cross types.

Eduard Künneke’s original score has been restored and adds a layer of melodrama. Not that The Loves Of Pharaoh wants for melodrama. All characters tend to headstrong behaviour, liable to decide at a moment’s notice that x needs to be blinded or y needs to be stoned.

Most impressive are the outdoor crowd battle/party scenes. Set around an Egypt - complete with life-size sphinx - built just outside of Berlin, with key scenes filmed from above using the cutting edge Twenties technology of a hot air balloon, these scenes are where the original grandeur truly presents itself.

Ultimately however, this is not a film that you watch for the story, it is an exhibit to be marvelled at by film historians as curious about print resurrection as a paleontologist about dinosaur remains. But unlike those beasts that used to walk the earth, The Loves of Pharaoh’s bones are coated in meat, some of it tinted.

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2012
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A dramatic tale of life and love in Ancient Egypt.

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Starring: Emil Jannings, Dagny Servaes, Harry Liedtke

Year: 1922

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Germany

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