For this episode we visit with Cate Blanchett among the ruins of 1945 Berlin in Steven Soderbergh’s re-creation of a 1940s melodrama, The Good German. A film and performance we consider to be Blanchett’s most underrated. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Megan McGurk, host of Sass Mouth Dames podcast.
Follow along, The Good German is available on Vudu.
What is the film about?
While in post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, an American military journalist is drawn into a murder investigation which involves his former mistress and his driver. They knew each other before the war, and now she is his driver’s mistress. What a coincidence or is it? There’s a murder investigation, deep secrets about what happened during the war that the characters carry with a great deal of shame.
Who does Cate play?
Lena Brandt, a German “stringer” caught in the chaos of post WW2 Berlin, holding a deep mystery about what she went through during the war.
How is Cate introduced?
6 minutes in, out of the shadows and into the light center screen. Great intro reminiscent of how 40s stars were introduced. Though just before that she’s shown body, no face in bed with Maguire.
What year did it come out?
Box Office: Domestic = $1.3MM Int’l = $4.6MM
- Blanchett’s performance as the center holding the film. The baton is passed from Tobey Maguire who opens the film to Clooney and finally to Blanchett revealing the story as hers.
- Soderbegh set out to make a film that looked and sounded like an old studio picture, but without the old studio prohibitions so sex and profanity. Using period camera lenses and sets, attempting to mimic the classic studio style, through deliberate editing patterns and fairly restrained camerawork.
- The film is notorious for how it completely failed; both with critics and audiences. We examine why. Was it because it was in black and white? The high stylization and deliberate pace? The not-so-happy ending?
- Cate leans into exaggerated gestures and fluid theatrical body movements.
- Cate’s look, dark hair, red lipstick against the period black and white cinematography might be the best she’s ever looked on screen.
- Obvious homage to Casablanca (1942), particularly the ending set similarly at an airport. Even the poster was a direct recreation.
- Because of the obvious allusions to Casablanca (1942) this performance was compared to Ingrid Bergman’s, other critics mentioned Marlene Dietrich, citing Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948). We also talk about Dietrich in Dishonored (1931) and Bergman in Arch of Triumph (1948). Cate acknowledged screening many 40s movies.
- Her chemistry with George Clooney. Playing illicit doomed lovers, the screen must smolder if the bond is to be believed.
- George Clooney – he loves Cate but their luck in movies is bad. See also The Monuments Men (2013), another WW2 story. His performance is anti-leading man since he’s being constantly beaten up.
- Our excitement about Cate in Nightmare Alley and how well suited she’s to the part of Lilith Ritter.
Scenes we liked:
- “I survived,” gives Cate the chance to play a range of emotions.
- “You can never really get out of Berlin,” romance and longing.
Film within context of Cate’s career:
Two years from her first Oscar win for The Aviator (2004), Cate was busier than ever in 2006. She also had Babel and Notes on a Scandal released within weeks of this film. In an interview with NPR she apologized for “being very present at the moment.”
What reviews said of film / Cate:
“a vamping Cate Blanchett, recalls Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s postwar heroine Veronika Voss by way of Carol Burnett.”- Manohla Dargis, NYTimes.
“With dead dark eyes, a dramatic slash of a mouth and a sullenness that encases whatever is left of her heart and soul, Lena is a vivid, if not exactly unique, creation, and Blanchett soon all but disappears into the forlorn, desperate character. She summons shades of Dietrich, to be sure, but brings Lena fully to life, at least to the extent she has life left in her.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety.
Blanchett told Reuters, “I had to use my own resources and invent my own version, because what was the point of imitating Marlene Dietrich, she does it perfectly herself.”
In an interview with The Guardian, she said of the film: “It’s quite Brechtian, and the emotions are handled in that Forties way. There’s no introspection in Forties films unless it’s expressed externally, and that was really challenging. It’s not melodramatic, it’s what people do. Often, George [Clooney] and I would say, ‘Whoa, that felt eggy’ – it felt like you’ve got egg on your face – and Steven said, ‘If it doesn’t feel eggy, you’re not there.’ We just had to go for it.