Last night I had the pleasure of watching one of Pola Negri’s early films, The Yellow Ticket. I presume that it was one of those fortuitous nights where I come to find uniquely rare films. The film was in bad quality and had absolutely no sound…but that was all right….because, just like with all silent films, everything was in my head. I did not mind any of this because it was an splendid film, besides all the sordid antisemitic stuff.
Pola here plays a character named Lea, an adolescent who is most passionate about her family, as well as her studies. She lives in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. She has to take care of her sick father because he is the only family that she has left. This is the main reason why she wants to go to St. Petersburg to study medicine. You see, she’s caught in this trap. You’ll see why later. Her father then dies and she is dragged down in this state of grave turmoil. The father leaves her instructor a note telling him that he is not her real father. Her real mother abandoned her in his home when they offered to care for her. She later killed herself.
And what makes it worse is that the teacher cannot look out for Lea because he has to go to give lessons to the governor’s son. So Lea goes off to Russia, to reach her dreams of learning medicine, but is really denied everything because she is Jewish. This is World War one, you know? So if she wanted to work or study as she wanted, she needed to obtain a “yellow passport”, meaning an identification card for a prostitute. It was either that or going to prison. This is why this movie is generally sad for me. Lea is a girl with some sort of celibate mentality (she is a nineteen-year-old girl) whose only interest is her education. So the only way she can pay rent is if she goes off at night and sells herself to degrading Russian men. Hey, at least she got into university. Except she used another person’s name..she didn’t want to use her own…you could know why. Her teacher had enclosed a note with his dead sister’s personal information in a book he had given her. Lea called herself Sophie. She happily excels in her studies but simultaneously is depressed by the fact that she has to offer herself every night. A boy called Dimitri falls for her but she doesn’t allow anything to happen because she does not want him to find out her real identity.
So Lea one night is encouraged by her fellow prostitute girlfriends to dominate her timidity and to flirt with some men in a party. She does so, with shame overpowering her spirit, as Dimitri watches from another table. A friend, who wanted to show him what her real identity was, demanded him to come. Dimitri encountered Lea angrily as he later stormed out of the room. Lea then felt so ashamed that she attempted suicide by jumping out of a window.
Well, that just terribly sucks, doesn’t it? Dimitri then frustratingly goes to Lea’s professor, to expect an answer of why she would do this. I don’t know why he went to him. The instructor is reminded of how nineteen years before he had had a fling with one of his students named Lydia. There is a flashback in the film with Pola playing Lydia, who was Lea’s mother. She fell in love with the professor but he was forced to leave her thanks to his father. So Lydia was informed that he was to marry another woman. She then couldn’t go on anymore with her sadness that she abandoned Lea, the child that she had conceived with the professor out of wedlock.
Meanwhile, just about Lea’s old instructor is to teach the son of the governor, he sees news in the newspaper how his “dead sister” has won an award for her remarkable school performance. He begs to the governor to let him solve this shocking travesty. He sees Lea’s professor as he then takes notice of a framed picture of a woman who looks much like Lea. The professor explains to him that the photograph is of a person who was much close to him. The instructor remembers he still has the note Lea’s father gave him, which was really Lydia’s suicide note thanking the family and telling them to care for Lea. The professor is astonished and goes to the hospital at once, where Lea’s been treated for her wounds. She is needed for an emergency operation as “her father” agrees to do it at once. The operation is a success. Lea awakes and sees her old instructor and her professor at her bedside. The movie beautifully ends. What a sad and melancholy film!
The main reason why I liked this film wholeheartedly was because I actually understood the whole story. It was finely explained with no confusing setbacks. Pola’s performance is excused from nearly all flaws because of her mere artistic ingenuity. It was a film to sadden you for most of the time but sometimes those depressing movies have happy endings, yes? Though I felt this film was rather short, with only about fifty minutes of length. Here was Pola in the midst of her rise to fame. Only a few more hits before becoming the world’s momentary superstar. It just makes me bitterly upset that she had to take care of a man who wasn’t even her father and who was sort of preventing her from getting an education. Well, now, he was the one who raised her. He shouldn’t have kept all those secrets from her, though, neither the instructor. I have to declare this as one of Pola’s greatest silent hits. Here is a trailer of the film with better quality and some music: