Camille, in which Greta Garbo plays a society woman on the prowl for a rich husband in 1847 Paris, features a parade of jewel-bedecked gowns, yet when
director George Cukor cuts to a close-up of his star, everything else fades. In medium or long shot Garbo is your average actress – even, at certain angles, unremarkable – yet that all changes when you get close enough to notice the mischievous glimmer in her eyes. The Garbo look – the one she gave to her rivals and her paramours alike – was at once provocative and reserved, an invitation to know her but only to a certain point. ‘I’m not always sincere,’ she tells a suitor early on in Camille, effectively defining her performance technique. ‘One can’t be in this world, you know.’ In most of her movies, but especially in Camille, Garbo seemed to be suffering under some sort of romantic resignation. This won her the audience’s sympathy without her ever asking for it, which may explain why she’s always been pitied from afar.