Murnau's last film (after three years of mixed fortunes in Hollywood) was begun as a collaboration with the documentarist Robert Flaherty, but resolved itself into Murnau's purest and least inhibited celebration of physical sensuality and love. Its plot is a simple Pacific islands folk tale: a young man and woman fall in love, thereby violating a local taboo, and their romance ends in inevitable tragedy. The film is a rhapsody of textures and an exceptionally sensuous play of light, rhythm and composition. Its narrative pretext is (necessarily) heterosexual, but Murnau's homosexual sensibility was never clearer: the central image (and texture) of the film is the flesh of its young hero, and it is his virility that sets the tragedy in motion. Fetishistic to a degree, the film is none the less never patronising to its subject or its actors. It plays as a pre-colonial anachronism, rather like one of Melville's South Seas novels. It's extremely beautiful.
Cast and crew