Destiny aka Behind the Wall (Fritz Lang, 1921)
In the Expressionistic frame story, in which human lives are each represented by a candle, Death grants a woman three chances to save her lover, if love can triumph over death. The three stories within the story each occur in a setting that is nominally historic, but really in the realm of fantasy: an adventure tale with a Persian setting out of the Arabian Nights, a Renaissance Venetian romance, and a largely comic story set in China.
In the veins of Nosferatu, Vampyr, Haxan, and many other European films of the time, Fritz Lang’s Destiny is a Silent Horror movie that mixes with romance and Shakespeare stories. It shows the raw talent of Lang’s storytelling abilities. With three stories into one that links them together.
Co-written by Lang and his wife of the time Thea von Harbou, Destiny stars Lil Dagover a legend in impersonating women in early German Cinema. She has a role into every story of the film and almost like a chameleon presence, she reminds us the reason she is an actor of those stories.
There are lots of special effects that characterized early horror films with many imprints and frame trickery that have influenced the films to follow. The filmmakers of this era had to be creative to actually play with the film and make us believe that the trick is almost believable. For a modern day film goer it might seem amateurish with the digital capture of action and the CGI remodeling of almost every image but in 1921 the means were limited and they had to make more with less. It also demonstrate how you can tell a good story with anything.
Destiny is an important film for History, first it influenced Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Bunuel to the possibilities of the art of Cinema but also because it is an early demonstration of Lang’s storytelling potential. However, the story has some naive elements and it is not a masterpiece like let’s say the aforementioned Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but it is still an essential German Silent film.