Prior to watching this movie, I had not realised what a fine actor is Klaus Maria Brandauer. But what drew me to this film is the subject itself, as Alfred Redl was a real officer in the upper echelons of Austro-Hungarian intelligence, who was accused of passing information to the Russians.
The opening shots are disconcerting as all sorts of people make eye contact with the camera and smile. We quickly realise that the camera is the young Redl as a small child, son of a stationmaster. But young Redl's talents are recognised at school and he is transferred to army officer training; he is "a bright peasant lad" according to its commandant, but Redl himself refers to himself early on as "a treacherous peasant", when he is asked to snitch on his fellows. At the army school, Redl does however find a friend in a young Hungarian aristocrat, Kubinyi, on whom he develops a lifelong crush.
From here the film plots the rise and rise of Redl through the ranks; twenty minutes into the film and he is already a captain in the Italian part of the Empire. He is then promoted to major and based in Galicia, taking Kubinyi with him. Redl sublimates his desires through loyalty to the emperor whose institutions have helped him rise from his peasant origins. Redl turns his back on his class origins and his family, but he falls out with Kubinyi over some minor passing remark of the latter that was disrespectful to the Habsburgs. (Knowledge of Austro-Hungarian history and geography would be helpful to the viewer in order to obtain the most out of the film, but these are not essential.)
In Vienna, and having reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel, no less a person than Archduke Franz Ferdinand (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl) asks him to modernise military intelligence. In a turn of the wheel, Redl refers to one of his new team as "a bright peasant lad". In the last half hour, Redl is introduced at a ball to young Alfredo Volocchio, with whom he has a brief relationship, but Redl knows he is being set up; he had made too many enemies in his rise to the top. The hunter becomes the hunted; Redl becomes a scapegoat to galvanise military morale. Brandauer is simply superb at the end, betrayed by the very people and institutions to which he spent his life giving loyal service. The movie ends with archive film of World War One.
This beautiful film has the feel of perpetual winter: its dominant colours are browns, blues, greys, and whites. There is much period detail. Unfortunately, the quality of the product is often not as brilliant as one would have liked. The screen is often grainy and the there is some poor ADR. (The dialogue is spoken in German but many of the actors are Hungarian.) It's a shame too that more attention was not made to making Brandauer look more youthful when he was the young captain.
Nevertheless, Brandauer's performance is a real tour-de-force, and the film -one of those rarities that is certainly worth watching again and again - won many prizes from the BAFTAs to Cannes; it was also nominated at the Oscars.
Lots of films try to recreate an historical period, but for one reason or another don't quite succeed. This one does succeed. It brings a lost world back to life: an epoch at the end of the Austrian Empire a century ago.
In addition, it tells a fascinating story about a fully-rounded character, Redl, who embodies within himself, aspects of the empire in decline. This role is beautifully acted by Brandauer.
This is an outstanding film, made memorable by the realistic complexity of Redl's ambiguous character as interpreted by Brandauer. One of the most interesting films of the 1980's and not to be missed.
"Redl ezredes" - to give it the title under which it was first released - has to be the best-kept secret I know among cinematic masterworks. A few people actually saw it, in German with English subtitles as it first came out; they remember liking it; but they've filed the memory away, never to be retrieved.
Let's start with the screenplay. Szabo gives credit to John Osborne as the source; but the film is much more convincing than "A Patriot for Me," and very unlike it in a number of ways. In any case, the story of Alfred Redl has been told more often than one need mention. Szabo has said more than once that this film, along with "Mephisto" (vastly inferior) and "Hanussen" (I've never seen it), constitutes a statement about the Kadar regime in Hungary in the only way he could make it; well, all that proves is that directors should shut up about their intentions and let the film stand on its own.
The acting. In spite of a largely Hungarian cast, Szabo chose four leading German-speaking actors for the major parts. Klaus Maria Brandauer, for all that he was already known, really reveals his great talents as Redl; he subsequently played in a number of English-language films, notably the deplorable "Out of Africa" and as a distant second fiddle to Sean Connery in "The Russia House," but it's "Redl ezredes" that probably made him well-known in England and America. Armin Mueller-Stahl is a splendidly sleazy Franz Ferdinand (how wonderful of Szabo to make him the evil genius); Jan Niklas is suitably icy-cool as the aristocratic old school friend who never does anything for the worshipping Redl except give him a gun to shoot himself with; and Gudrun Landgrebe plays the slightly sex-obsessed Katalin beautifully. In fact, it's only Katalin who knows anything about Redl's homosexuality (admirable restraint on Szabo's part) - just three brief vignettes: as a small girl, touching the boy Alfred's genitals and having him recoil; getting him to admit, during a bedroom scene, that, making love to the sister, he sees the brother; and introducing him to the Italian male prostitute. (With even more restraint, Szabo never mentions that the real-life Redl was a Czarist spy.)
The photography is equally wonderful. You can't lose with Vienna, but even the bleak fields of Polish Galicia take on a sheen; and what a superb display is made of the K-u-K uniforms!
Finally, the film seeks to make a point, even without Janos Kadar ever being explicitly featured in it. Espionage, Szabo seems to be saying, is not only repellent, but the Great Game is a counterfeit; given that Redl is just a scapegoat, not a homosexual or a Russian agent, his only naughty secret is - that his background is Ukrainian and peasant class, and he does all he can to hide it. In the most frightening moment of the film, Franz Ferdinand says to Redl, "Suchen Sie Ihren Doppelgaenger" - "Find your double." A Jew or a Slav won't do as a victim for political reasons, but a half-Jewish Ruthene is another story. We see Redl's masquerade uncovered when he spurns his unmistakably peasant sister; we watch him being more Austrian than the Austrians around him; and, in the end, we rejoice in his fall. In fact, there isn't a nice character in the whole film.
"Redl ezredes" disabuses le Carré fans in the way le Carré disabuses Ian Fleming fans. For this reason alone, it's not to be missed.
Klaus Maria Brandauer is one of the most watchable actors of his generation & this film is almost entirely without a frame of his character the film does not shy away from the issues that still haunt humanity today & I bought this DVD copy along with the Mephisto DVD as I wanted to see the films again after originally seeing them on cinema release! it's a shame that the film/video is not remastered because I can imagine a lot of film buffs would buy this as a set if remastered - the quality is typical 1980's DVD & of course now we have the bluray & sound bar technology as part of our technical cinema in the home experience it's a 'shame' about the technical quality - however the film & acting by all the cast is theatrical & expansive no need for fast cuts as the acting content is mesmerising I would buy the remastered version (not one out there yet!) even though I have this DVD copy simply because the film deserves a wider audience again, come on copyright distributors get your act together & rerelease a remastered version with booklet & make this a success all over again as we film fans adore KMB & this films artistic merits & theme are so very relevant today Klaus Maria Brandauer is mesmerising
Unlike most people who know both films (there aren't many!), I've always preferred this 1985 film to Klaus Maria Brandauer's - and director István Szabó's Oscar winning 'Mephisto', from 1981.
'Mephisto' won an Oscar, for Foreign language film and as such, István Szabó remains Hungary's only ever Academy Award recipient. The two films have similarities, with Brandauer giving superbly nuanced yet powerful performances and both as high ranking Military Officers, German in Mephisto and Austro-Hungarian in this.
Colonel Redl is a made up character that is drawn from historical records and the story that ensues is based on John Osborne's play 'A Patriot for Me' and we follow Redl as boy, all the way through to his high-ranking officer just before the onset of the Great War. It's a compelling study of the decaying Empire that so dominated turn-of-the-century Europe and the bubbling resentments and labelling of ethnic groups within that start to make us feel us uncomfortable as the recognisable Monster that was to become becomes apparent.
It is Brandauer's calm and chilly persona that is both compelling and slightly disturbing. In Mephisto, in comparison, he is far more dramatic, even over-the-top, though the critics might say otherwise. As Redl coolly bulldozes his way through the ranks, craftily getting on the right side of everyone he needs to, his feelings toward a younger officer let slip and after the affair, his decimation from power is calculatingly abrupt and shocking, revealing a paranoid State.
There is excellent support from Armin Mueller-Stahl, recognisable from many English speaking films, usually as a German SS officer, as the doomed but supremely powerful and influential Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
The period detail is perfect as is the cinematography, looking radiantly splendid in the great halls and ballrooms, beautifully evocative in the snowy wastelands and suitably grim in the film's darker moments.
As I said, Colonel Redl certainly deserves to be as known as Mephisto - and of course, both far more than just specialist films for Art House lovers, that they seem to be casually categorised as.
My DVD was a Korean release that, once the subtitles were changed to English (from the default Korean) played like just like a 'normal' one.
This is a total classic. Szabo lavishes attention on every period detail and extracts jaw-dropping performances from all his actors. Brandauer is obviously the critical casting, and delivers especially the incredible final scene (where else in cinema can you recall the lead being pressurised into committing suicide?) with amazing conviction. The whole tale scythes open the vanity, prejudice and arrogance of the Habsburgs with devastating precision. It's exquisitely done, one of my top ten films ever.
Was surprised that Oberst Redl was a real officer and a real scandal back in 1913. Although the film is not a true portrayal of the motive behind the treason (in reality just simple blackmail when the Colonel compromised himself) it is rare glimpse into a lost world, dead army and equally dead Empire, the second largest country in Europe of the time.
A wonderful and evocatve film. It takes place in the Austrian/Hungarian Empire prior to the First World War and tells the story of the rise of a station masters son in the Austrian Army where he is surrounded by the sons of people from wealthy if not aristocratic background. His rise is viewed with jealousy and resentment until his fall. It is wonderfully photographed and acted.
I was glued to this film of life in the Hapsburg military, and how one could progress, but with the pitfalls that one had to avoid. The acting particularly from the male cast members was exceptional, and the detail that had been given to costumes, sets, scenery and artefacts were impeccable. A film not to be missed.
I saw this film on television about fifteen years ago and the impression that it left with me has hardly faded in that time. I only recently found that it had been issued on DVD and was eager to see it again.
The film is set in the countries and cities of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the years before the outbreak of the First World War. Redl comes from humble stock and by dint of hard work and ability is awarded a place at a prestigious military academy. He befriends Kubini, a member of the nobility, and the remainder of the film follows their fortunes as they are promoted into positions of ever greater responsibility. Redl becomes a spymaster and is charged with securing the empire against the enemy within, particularly the corruption and disaffection of the officer class. He is feared and despised in equal measure. Asked by the Crown Prince to make an example of some pilfering businessman, he gets it wrong and finds himself in danger.
It's a splendid film on it's own and is also part of a trilogy. A very enjoyable couple of hours viewing.