City Girl ★★★★★

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City Girl, F.W. Murnau’s subsequent venture after Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, is a portrait of marriage and domestic tension, a contrast of metropolitan and rural lifestyles, told through the eyes of a hopeful farmer’s son and a lonely waitress. Sunrise since upon its release has been viewed as the filmmaker’s true masterpiece, a cinematic feat that has influenced and shaped the landscape of cinema, and although City Girl does not possess the emotional gravitas and thematic substance as Sunrise, there is no doubt that City Girl comes close, anchored by a premise that is relatively simple, yet its emotions grow and propel its characters in denser territories, as themes are being unpacked and their developments revealed and emphasised.

Throughout City Girl, its focus is tight, yet it reveals itself as a film of two halves; the former exploring an innocent farmer in the hectic atmosphere of the modern world, Chicago to be precise, attempting to capitalise in their wheat crops, a responsibility that bears great weight to his father back home in Minnesota, while the latter explores the transitioning life of an urban woman who pursues her passion of being with this charming and sensitive farmer, leaves her former life for one that promises a more beautiful and widened horizon, only to find herself in the claustrophobic and persistent grips of cruelty from her father-in-law, who sees her as an opportunist. The transition from the emotional grounding of one character to another is reinforced by the wonderful median that it assembles for itself, composing the meet-cute incident that both characters would share, our heart sinking and warmed by their shared presence.

City Girl possesses one of the most romantic set-piece ever to be crafted in the medium, and it does so with such simplicity but simultaneously with virtuosity as we see the camera track these two lovers through an open wheat field, a moment of joy and tenderness that amps its sentimentality but strikes a sweet spot that instead immerses rather than alienate. Such emotional nuggets could be found throughout the film, like the sight of the farmer’s son, reunited with his concerning mother, a hug that is palpable until the moment they let each other go, actions that speak significantly for themselves, Murnau allowing banal actions to be the primary vector for emotional and thematic stimulation.

Film preservation is a key intervention that is now being deeply invested by filmmakers and enthusiasts, realising the necessity of preserving a critical piece of a medium’s history, encapsulating visual poetry and beauty that would allow itself to be experienced in subsequent generations; but much like anything, mistakes had to be endured in order to come to this epiphany, and with this, many films had suffered; thankfully films such as this, and along with the other works of Murnau had surviving prints for restorers to work with, but unfortunately the original score that came intact with City Girl has been lost forever, no longer can the population of my generation could experience that purest of intentions of the filmmakers. City Girl is given an alternative score, composed by Christopher Caliendo in 2008, one that demonstrates a sense of inspiration from the film itself, its emotional line peaking and dipping to the images that run through the screen, and for the most part, we are able to feel the intended heartaches and romantic fondness that Murnau is attempting to capture with his images and performances; it is a contribution that is deserving of some credit, as indeed some scenes feel more emphasised and palpable, its characters feel closer to our hearts than they would have been if completely experienced in complete silence.

City Girl is a triumph of romantic cinema, a precursor to the melodramatic classics that we now hail, a fundamental core of the genre that Murnau has captured in a span of an hour and a half, paired upon with splendid imagery and technical competency that continues from his innovative contributions of his previous films. A rarity in silent cinema, City Girl left my eyes welling and my mouth completely at a grin, sentimentally powerful that could match with anything that contemporary cinema has to offer.

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