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Of the two best-known German expressionist films, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the former is kind of, well, better. Although its technique is dated, its mood is still potent. By comparison, Caligari’s asymmetric painted backdrops now look stagey, if still impressively weird. But Wiene’s 1919 horror flick is fascinating from a film-history standpoint and is pretty interesting sociologically, too. The titular doctor is a nightmare vision of a psychiatrist: Rather than ease his patient’s suffering, Caligari hypnotizes the troubled and perhaps insane Cesare, compelling him to commit murder. Later labeled “degenerate art” by the Nazis, this was the film that broke the European boycott of post-World War I German cinema. Viewers may disagree on whether Caligari expresses the emptiness of postwar Germany, the terror of the war to come, a more universal Oedipal dreador maybe all that and more. It screens at noon at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW. Free.
(202) 842-6799. (Mark Jenkins)