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Der brennende Acker

Films like Nosferatu and Tabu are fairly well-known. But Der brennende Acker (The Burning Soil)? This wintery kammerspielfilm by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, however, was a sensation when it came out. The soil of the title turns out to be an oil field which Peter, a peasant’s son, has set his eyes on. With live accompaniment by Olga Pashchenko.

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Johannes returns to the farm which his brother Peter has kept running in his absence to see his dying father. The ambitious Johannes has no taste for the life of a farmer, but he is eager to get his hands on a piece of land owned by a local aristocratic family. Johannes is the only one who knows there”s an oil well underneath its surface …

Der brennende Acker was the next film Murnau made after his Expressionist masterpiece Nosferatu (1922). For a long time the film was regarded as lost, but it has been rediscovered and now forms the remaining part, together with eleven other titles, of Murnau”s oeuvre of 21 feature films. The kammerspielfilm, with its dramatic use of light and dark, its subtle visual compositions and shots of flames licking the snow is considered a “cinematographic event” and an authentic masterpiece.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau trained as an assistant director under the great theatre director Max Reinhardt, an acknowledged master of stage direction and lighting. Reinhardt was also a major influence on German Expressionist cinema; not only Murnau but also Ernst Lubitsch and Paul Wegener were amongst his students.

The screening will be accompanied live by the Russian pianist Olga Pashchenko, who studied pianoforte and harpsichord with Richard Egarr at the Amsterdam University of the Arts.

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