Imitation of Life
Time Out saysThere is a marvellous moment towards the end of Sirk's film which encapsulates the cruel cynicism that permeates his best work. As successful actress Turner, leaning over her dying black maid and long-term friend, lifts her head in tears, we see in the background a photograph of the dead woman's half-caste daughter, smiling. The romantic sentimentality of the moment is totally undercut by the knowledge that the girl, who has rejected her mother out of a desire to pass for white, has found a tragic release with her kindly parent's death. Sirk's last movie in Hollywood is a coldly brilliant weepie, a rags-to-riches tale of two intertwined families, in which the materialist optimism is continually counterpointed by an emphasis upon racist tension and the degeneration of family bonds. Despite the happy ending, what one remembers from the film is the steadily increasing hopelessness, given its most glorious visual expression in the scene of the maid's extravagant funeral, the only time in the film when her subordinate status and unhappy distance from her daughter are abolished. Forget those who decry the '50s Hollywood melodrama; it is through the conventions of that hyper-emotional genre that Sirk is able to make such a devastatingly embittered and pessimistic movie.