Top positive review
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Dunkel, dunkel (Dark, dark)
on 19 October 2011
Mephisto (1981) is a Hungarian/German/Austrian coproduction of Klaus Mann's 1936 novel of the same name, directed by internationslly famous Hungarian director István Szabó. Klaus Maria Brandauer as Hendrik Höfgen (modelled after Gustav Gründgens) and Rolf Hoppe as the General, actually modelled after Hermann Goering, play the key roles and are the only German actors. The film is rich and lavish, concentrates on social life and the arts, has an unusual number of good looking women, and is generally the opposite of an(y) American adaptation of a German WWII topic like Valkyrie, the 2008 Stauffenberg epic played by Tom Cruise, where the body language and behaviour of most German generals had a totally unsuited Hollywood flavor. Here, it is all mitteleuropäisch, genuinly so.
Faust and Mephisto have been a German topic long before Goethe's (1749-1832) world famous two part drama, and the pact between the all-knowledgeable Faust and the devil Mephisto about the ultimate power has been varied over the years - not least by Thomas Mann, the famous author-father of Klaus Mann, who wrote Dr Faustus: The Life of the German composer Adrian Leverkühn, told by a friend, published in 1947. A lot also of Klaus Mann's 1936 biting novel is autobiographi-cal, since sister Erica, like Klaus himself a part time actor, member of the mostly politically left bohème, and also homosexual, was for a while married to Gründgens, who was alternatively playing Faust, but increasingly Mephisto after WWII in (West) German theatres to great public applause and fame.
Playing still in the plush Nazi pre-war years, to some extent full of ideals about national rejuvenation and war far away, Höfgen abandons his conscience; he continues to act and befriends himself with the Nazi Party, moving to the political right in order to keep and improve his job and social position. The performing arts in Germany had the biggest role of any country in the world, and the top posts were of high prestige and reward, something the film brings out very clearly, but which people not familiar with German arts may not realize to the full extent. The plot's irony is that Höfgen in reality is Faustus rather than the protagonist's most fond dream Mephisto - which goes to the General.
The film is an unconditional five star, but there have been complaints from the audience about sub-titling and a certain blurness/colloquia-lism of speech. I can confirm that this criticism is justified, but that not even knowing German does make you catch all in a first go. No American simplification at hand!