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I'll get my ass kicked for saying this (so what else is new), but this is a
great movie. The composition of the visuals makes it utterly compelling. The
Spanish setting comes totally to life, and I speak as someone who has
visited the country. The cruelty of the aristocrats, the desperation of the
peasants, the sensuality of the señoritas
it's all typical of the place, and
you can see it in Spanish movies like Los Santos Inocentes (1984). That this
should have been achieved by a bunch of foreigners shooting in 1940 is a
tribute to the genius of director-star Leni Riefenstahl.
LR was originally a dancer, and it shows in her superb command of flamenco
dancing here. Having seen the real thing, I can swear that she is as good as
any of the Spanish dancers who have grown up doing mudanzas and seguidillas.
Being the director, she has the advantage of getting the camera to ogle her
every sensuous gyration at close range.
The story concerns a gypsy beggar-dancer who wanders into a Spanish village,
where a shepherd falls in love with her
and a Marquis falls in lust with
her. It must be said that the more romantic scenes are cliché, almost like
Valentino, but the more carnal scenes really give off sparks.
Riefenstahl's main concern is with nature and the mountains. The constant
theme of the story is the contrast between the purity of the high mountain
pastures (moisture and fresh air) and the corruption of the Tiefland
(lowland) with its cruel aristocracy and downtrodden peasants - "the men
are bad and the women are sick".
The scenes of nature photography are first-rate, and anyone who hasn't seen
Tiefland is missing out on a major part of the development of cinema.
Especially of note are the fast motion scenes of clouds rolling in and
lightning striking, also the opening scene with the shepherd wrestling a
(very real) wolf. Many of the scenes seem to be directly taken from Goya's
paintings of peasant life.
It is interesting to consider that LR's "mountain-films" may have been the
ancestors of the spaghetti-western. Tiefland and The Blue Light have many of
the features of a western, and could easily be re-made as such (although
they would lack the animal magnetism of LR). Try comparing Tiefland to A
Fistful of Dollars, you'll see what I mean.
Tiefland was mostly shot in 1940, though for various reasons it wasn't
released until 1953. It seems that the extras in the film are gypsies
recruited from concentration camps, so the bitterness they exude may be more
than just acting. That peasant woman who snarls "you rat" probably really
means it. In this sense, Tiefland is a movie about itself and a fascinating
social document that takes us back through time and space. (One way we can
sympathise with these people is to appreciate their performance for us
here). There are even some who maintain that the love-hate relationship
between the dancer and the Marquis is a comment on LR's own relationship
with Hitler, although I must leave this to others more knowledgeable about
I would like to thank the Imdb-ist who sent me a decent copy of this film,
which I never would have thought to watch. You should see it too, dear
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