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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!
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on 15 May 2011
Don't let the 3 stars i gave this great movie let you off. It's for another criticism.
This glorious masterpiece ( Mephisto ) deserves 5 stars. It's a movie that mystifies evil emotions that can't be explained within the human soul. Klaus Maria Brandauer was magnificent in the role of an artist consumed with the idea of his Art and believing it's the base of his humanity. So he literally makes a deal with the devil ( Here personified in the Nazi regime ), so that he can live on and breath the fruits of his Art. Klaus Maria should have been nominated for an Oscar that year. His facial expressions alone are a joy to watch and absorb. What about the final expression we see on his face when the credits roll.
So why the 3 stars ?
It's of course because of the English subtitles !!
I don't understand why so many British companies specializing in distributing foreign films have a way of annoying the true fans of artistic cinema. In this case the English Hard Subs that cannot be removed, were so tiny to read and so white that you can't follow on white background, sometimes you need to rewind the DVD to understand an important conversation.
I bought so many foreign movies from Amazon and from different production companies.
Frankly, i became an expert on which companies provide the best English subtitles. And which ones allow for removable subs.
Anyways, ( Mephisto ) was only available as this copy. I watched it fine but the subtitles for me were a big hurdle.
Really a movie like this as many other masterpieces need to be remastered in the UK , as even the sound was Mono.
A final note : sometimes i feel the American companies take good care of this point regarding providing satisfactory subtitles to really preserve the true Art of cinema.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 November 2014
István Szabó's movie is based on the novel with the same title by Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann.
There is, however, an essential difference between the treatment in the book and in the movie of the same material: the character and behavior of the actor Gustaf Gründgens, the (ex-) husband of Klaus' sister Erika.
Gustaf Gründgens had only one obsession: acting, to become the best actor and that at all costs. For the literary critic M. Reich-Ranicki, Gustaf Gründgens was indeed the best German actor of the 20th century. He excelled in the role of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust (see the movie `Faust' shot by his adopted son Peter Gorski - one caveat: no subtitles).

The novel and the movie
Klaus Mann's novel is basically a sharply defined portrait (and an attack on) of his brother-in-law, the overambitious theater man. In order to fulfill his ambitions, G. Gründgens plays the role of the humble collaborator/servant of all those in power, be they from the left or from the (extreme) right, so also of the Nazis.
But, the movie goes one step further. The actor, Gustaf Gründgens, serves as a means to dissect a cardinal human problem: the relationship between art and power (politics). The movie illustrates eminently that an artist (art) should not play the role of an innocent human being in a society full of bloodshed. As André Gide said, `there is no art without liberty'. An artist (actor) should not collaborate naively with culture barbarians (`When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver'). In any case, for those culture barbarians artists (actors) should only play the part of their negligible foot soldiers, which can be `crushed like beetles' (`Get out, actor!').

Klaus Maria Brandauer plays perfectly the `two' Mephistopheles, the `immoral' character in Goethe's Faust and the `innocent' political collaborator. He is surrounded by a splendidly directed great cast.
This movie, which tackles head on the role of art (movies) itself, is a must see for all lovers of world cinema.
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on 3 March 2016
This film on DVD technically is just not good enough when we have blu-ray standard equipment & fabulous sound bars buying this quality DVD is always going to be a 'shame about the technical side' However the film itself is wonderful & the story has never been so relevant as it is today. The acting is strong by all the cast involved & the film feels modern & vital can I make a plea to the company who has the copyrights to this release to please remaster the picture & sound as this is one of the great films & deserves the very best of transfers by the company who release it onto the DVD market to the owners of the original film/video - please remaster the film as it's a remarkable beautifully acted piece & anyone who goes to the theatre can enjoy this as so much of the film centres around the world of the theatre in the time of the National Socialists in Germany the German general who 'adopts' MEPHISTO is chilling & the themes in the film are pertinent to todays global events & MEPHISTO played by the magnificent Klaus Maria Brandauer is magnificent 5 stars for the film & 1 star for the technical aspect of the reproduction but nonetheless I will be able to watch many times over as it's a great great film & just a shame copyright owners who release this DVD haven't as yet remastered this gem of a film.
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on 16 June 2001
Hungarian director Istvan Szabo's tale of Klaus Maria Brandauer as an actor in Nazi Germany reminded me of the problem posed by Burt Lancaster in Judgment at Nuremburg. As a German lawyer indicted for enforcing Nazi ideology, he asked whether it was more moral to have fled the country the way others did in disgust, or to stay and try and moderate in a kind of passive protest. Brandauer faces the same dilema, though his predicament is given the added irony of him being an actor, a person assumed to lack an identity. However Szabo doesn't demonize the character, which may have something to do with Szabo continuing to make movies in Hungary after the Russians invaded, as evidence of the adjustment of the working artist. We may think that his decision to stay on is ill-advised since we know the Nazis to be fickle in their allegiance, but we don't admonish him for being an opportunist. And Brandauer lets us see this actor is more than just a performer, and particularly in one close-up where his contempt for the Nazi Prime Minister is hidden behind the mask of host. The material is taken from the novel by Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann, and allegedly based on the marriage of Erika Mann (Klaus' sister) to the actor Gustav Grundgens, who appeared in Fritz Lang's M and toured Faust. As metaphor the Faust legend is apt, with a man who sells his soul to the devil, though the Hamlet analogy also used with Brandauer as the Nazi's Hamlet is less successful. Szabo creates an hypnotic mood of continuous dread. We are in constant fear for what will become of Mephisto, especially when he tries to protect friends, the horror of the Nazi's represented by the Goring-like Prime Minister. His fatness suggests both an over-ripe sensuality and a barbaric ignorance. At one point he even says "When I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver" which I think can be attributed to Goebbels. Szabo also gets a laugh from a montage of Brandaeur's entrances in various theatre roles, after he closes a curtain from an argument, and Brandaeur himself gets us on side with his first appearance howling in a jealous tantrum backstage.
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on 24 December 2015
Having read the book I thought the film might be disappointing, but it is faithful to the book and very well done. What do you do in any walk of life when you find yourself under a cruel regime. Do you make a stand or convince yourself that you are making your living entertaining people and what is going on around you is nothing to do with you?

Like Faustus the actor takes the Devil's offer and finds that there is a price to pay.
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on 26 April 2010
This film stands the test of time. It is as fascinating now as when I first saw it and Klaus Maria Brandauer is charismatic as the actor who drifts into a partnership with evil while desperate to be loved and admired. Although the film is long, the time flies; don't be put off if you don't speak German as the film is mesmerising even if you have to read the sub-titles.
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on 20 November 2011
I have watched this film several times over the years and it has never lost its fascination . The acting is superb and the atmosphere of terror spine chilling. We are seeing more and more recent evidence of how decent Germans were dragged into and implicated in one the most unbelievable acts of crime of all time. This film gives a very clear picture of what happens when an unrestrained ambition ignoring what is happening all around him descends into hell.
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on 16 March 2016
Not as good as I remember but then I find that to be the case with all of Istvan Szabo's films. A few fine performances but somehow it seems rather contrived now...
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on 9 February 2014
I bought this as I had to study it for Uni at the time. Had to really force myself to sit through it. The book it's based on is pretty good, and I can't say the subject matter's not interesting. Just don't watch it for pleasure.
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