For me, one of the most symbolic scenes in Szabo’s Mephisto is Hoefgen’s abrupt visit in France. As Hoefgen is “cleansing” his newly owned theater in Berlin from Anti-Nazi propaganda, we suddenly cut to him walking the streets of Paris. Extra diegetic music (which is quite rare in the film) plays during his walk for two reasons: to establish that he is in France (the music sounds very French) and to make us wonder why he is there, other than to carry on with German affairs. The music seems upbeat, possibly to convey his mood. Is he happy to be in France? Has a sudden stroke of sentimentality hit him to reestablish connections with his mistress and even wife? When we cut to Hoefgen suddenly in bed with his mistress, we realize that this is not so. Hoefgen has actually come to break ties with her completely and to tell her to stop writing to him. We come to understand this not only through dialogue, but how the camera focuses on his expressions. He lies in Juliette’s arms with an annoyed look on his face. Because she cannot see his face, he does not have to act with his expressions. Although there is a hint of him enjoying his last “fling” with her, his intentions are obvious from the camera’s unrelenting focus on him.
Hoefgen visits his wife for a different reason: to try to regain her respect. It is no secret that the actor has a high opinion of himself. The close-ups between the couple show how serious he is and how annoyed he becomes that she feels the same way she did before. There is also a certain point when a bright, outdoor light shines only on her face. This could be interpreted to mean she has found the light in France. Hoefgen hastily leaves after not being accepted by her or the few people in the café.
An interesting thing about this sequence is how the entire city is empty. Not a single extra is seen walking the streets. This could be symbolic of Germany’s future occupancy of France. It is certainly not a place Hoefgen wants to be. Where are his admirers? A quick montage of empty Paris streets shows his disgusted perception of the city. The colors look bleak and dull, and the street signs are all the same. Hoefgen’s departure is seen in a matter of seconds, and this shows how eager he is to escape. As Roger Ebert points out, his ominous departure into the black subway symbolizes his moral descent into Nazism.
We realize Hoefgen met with his past lovers only to cut off ties, as the General demanded. The following scene, a montage of a German party/wedding celebrating his success shows the contrast. The multitude of extras, the bright colors, the luxurious costumes and makeup, and fanciful music all contrast with the previous scene. In Germany, he is loved. They even dress up and dance as his character, Mephisto. He has truly sold his soul.