A Flash of Enlightenment: A Brechtian Moment in Douglas Sirk’s La Habanera

David E. Lee


Douglas Sirk’s German films are currently looked on as works that contain few oppositional elements, and even their degree of sophistication has been questioned. Sirk’s last German film, La Habanera (1937), includes a piece of visual trickery that functions subliminally—in the broadest sense of that term—and reveals a psychological truth underlying the social interactions of the main characters. The trompe-l’oeil also reflects back on the construction of illusion and film’s expressive powers. This Brechtian moment complements a critical stance that favors strong female characters, and it invites a reconsideration of the political position Sirk adopts in his film. Although both NS censorship and the nationalist sentiments of the author of the screenplay make it seem unlikely, the repression of science through dictatorial fiat depicted in the film and the poetic justice meted out to this folly offer a strong critique of intellectual conditions in Germany.

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