Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Starring: Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas
Script: Billy Wilder and others
Three delegates from Soviet Russia, Buljanow, Iranoff and Kopalski – whose names already give an impression of their comical roles – arrive in Paris of the late 30ies. Their task of selling confiscated jewelery of an exiled Russian baroness becomes difficult when the former proprietor of the gems, who happens to live, as chances are, in the very same city, finds out about her former precious belongings. The business of the three communists is not so much hampered by the lawsuit of the baroness, but rather through the corrupting efforts of her close friend (and hinted lover) Count Leon. The luxuries of capitalism, which haunt the three since their arrival are too tempting to reject, so the three naive communists are stalemated by materialist joys.
For the benefit of the people something ought to be done, so the irresistable, but herself very resisting special envoy Ninotschka Yakushova is being sent by the bolshewists in order to settle accounts. With her harsh and cold character, Ninotchka is the ideal personification of everything a westerner ever thought of communist women – except of her beauty. The romance she begins with Leon is not to last, not because both are opponents in a lawsuit, but through the doings of the jealous baroness. Blackmailed to choose between the Leon and the jewels (which, at least, are only sold in order to buy bread for the starving people of Soviet Russia), Ninotchka faces a wonderfully tragic decision…
Lubitsch succeedes in the hard task of making a critical film on the communist system – the first anti-communist film with a big box-office success in the USA, as it were – and at the same time poking fun at western stereotypes. Especially the main character is wonderfully exaggerated in her stiffness and robot-like loyality to the cause. Imagine the beautiful face of comrade Ninotchka Yakushova, as she answers to the flirting attempts of Leon in unpassionate staccato:
Count Leon D’Algout: Do you like me just a little bit?
Ninotchka: Your general appearance is not distasteful.
This supression of all her humane feelings poses the background for the heart-breaking scenes in which Ninotchkas emotions break free. Although one might be very aware of the blunt romantic manipulation of this 70 year old kitsch, it is nevertheless hard not to be moved when Ninotchka laughs, as if it was the first time in her life. A highly recommendable movie for an evening of not too subtle romantic feelings.
Resources: The Cinema of Ernst Lubitsch, Wikipedia
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