Die Puppe (1919) is a masterpiece by Ernst Lubitsch for which the Czech Martin Smolka composed his Puppenkavalier in 2010. The musician, author of several scores for the cinema, testifies to the wonderment aroused by this film, whose burlesque magic owes much to the talent of Ossi Oswalda, star actress of the silent era (she made only two talking films), in charge here of a virtuoso role.
The screenplay co-written by Ernst Lubitsch and Hanns Kräly (to whom the former owes his acquaintance with Oswalda) is an adaptation of a French comic opera by Edmond Audran (La Poupée, 1896), whose libretto, signed by Maurice Ordonneau and early translated into German, itself draws on Germanic sources – Der Sandmann (The Sandman) by E. T. A. Hoffmann, which was also translated into English. T.A. Hoffmann, which also inspired Jules Barbier to write the libretto for the first act of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann.
Die Puppe tells the story of Lancelot, who, enjoined to marry by his uncle but afraid of women, runs to a monastery. But the monks learn the amount of the dowry: 300,000 marks. Greedy, they urge Lancelot to give the change by marrying a puppet. The falot young man then rushes to the puppeteer Hilarius. The latter offers him the automaton he has just made in the effigy of his daughter Ossi… without realizing that the toy, broken by his assistant, has been replaced by the real Ossi. It is thus with a young girl mimicking an automaton that Lancelot leaves the store…
The film is full of comic, poetic and filmic finds, sometimes flirting with surrealism. It was considered by Lubitsch as one of the “most imaginative” he ever made. His inventiveness, his tenderness as well as the place he leaves to sound and music could not but inspire a composer like Smolka, in an original chamber ensemble juxtaposing “classical” instruments with electric guitar or accordion.