In “The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna,” Brigitte Helm plays the title character, a kept woman of a colonel in czarist St. Petersburg. When Nina spots a handsome lieutenant at a nightclub, she risks her security and affluent life for a night of pleasure with him. This leads to a troubled love affair, loss of status, and serious consequences for Nina and her lover.
Even though Nina maintains a comfortable life as the colonel’s mistress, her longing for real love becomes a powerful and immediate force when she meets the Lieutenant. The plot concentrates on Nina for most of the film, but then highlights a fascinating power play between the cold and calculating Colonel Beranoff, played by Warwick Ward, and the naive but determined Lieutenant Rostof (Francis Lederer). The combination of Helm’s terrific performance and a story that requires the characters to make serious and clear choices make this a compelling drama.
Like many of the UFA Studios (Germany) silent productions, the film features wonderful pacing and cinematography. The movie takes its time with Nina’s seduction scene, which takes place at the colonel’s villa. The would-be couple stumbles to find something exciting and new, but become the victims of circumstances and assumptions they cannot control. The many interior scenes and tight shots give it a claustrophobic feeling, which is exactly what an involvement in a love triangle might convey.
The director, Hanns Schwarz, brought a lot of experience to the set with him. He’d already directed ten films, and the cinematographer, Carl Hoffmann, began his career with “Macbeth” in 1913 and had shot dozens of films before this one. It’s nice to see Helm playing such a warm and empathetic character. She’s known for “Metropolis (1927),” but she’s also appeared in other terrific films, such as “L’argent (1928),” and “The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927).”