“Aren’t you ever going to stop deluding yourself? Handling Max? Behaving like some ludicrous little underage femme fatale? You’re… you’re about as fatale as an after dinner mint!”
‘Cabaret’, directed by Bob Fosse in 1972, is a musical set in Berlin in the 1930s. It’s the story of Brian, a British academic, played by Michael York, who meets a charismatic and extravagant nightclub singer called Sally Bowles, played by Liza Minnelli. We follow their friendship and love affair as it’s told in the film, intercut with performances from the nightclub and a constant feeling of dread as the Nazi party gains a foothold in the city. What makes this film so great is the balance Fosse achieves between the musical numbers, the subversive and liberal depiction of the love affair and the conservatism of the fascists. The songs aren’t just punctuation and are more than just a way of driving the narrative forward, but instead they become an integral part of the subtext of loss of liberty; a reminder of what was lost in Germany in the 1930s and 40s; and a perfect foundation for the characters themselves. Bowles in particular is a fantastic creation: enigmatic but open; joyous and decadent but somehow fragile and vulnerable. The highlight of the movie for me was the final performance by Bowles in which she masks her feelings of loss and uncertainty over her future and sings in defiance in front of the Nazis in the front row. This moment is made even more poignant with references to Minnelli’s own mother, Judy Garland, who had died three years before. This moment has everything, tying up all the complex plots and themes into one performance and blurs the line between the actress and the role. It is the perfect climax to a film that already says so much about liberty and the dogged pursuit of art and fun regardless of the pressures and paranoias of the society around it.
Would I recommend it? Yes – absolutely. Watch in a double bill with ‘An American in Paris’, directed by Minnelli’s father, to see what happens to a city after the war or perhaps even a film like ‘Come and See’ to see a different depiction of the rise of Nazism.