Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Werner Peters, Paul Esser, Carola Braunbock
Director: Wolfgang Staudte
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Based on Heinrich Manns influential novel 'Der Untertan', which casts Germany's penchant for ultra-nationalism and authoritarianism in a satirical light, this scathingly funny, once-banned classic by the director of 'The M... more »
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One of the Best
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 01/14/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Kaiser's Lackey"
One of the Best Ever
I imagine that most of is have never heard of the German film, "The Kaiser's Lackey". This is because it was once a banned film. Now, however, it is regarded by many as one of the best films ever made and we can all see it now on DVD thanks to First Run Features. It is based on a novel by Heinrich Mann, the older and more political brother of Thomas Mann. The film criticizes the social construct of the typical German authoritarian who aims at authority but comes upon war and suffers downfall.
"The Kaiser's Lackey" is the story of Diederich Hessling who fears everyone and everything. As he matures, he realizes that he has services to offer to those in control if he wants to rise to a position where he can have power himself. He lives by heeding those at the top and crushing those below him. By doing this he finds success. He succeeds as a student and as a businessman and later appeases his district administrative president, Von Wulcow and finds favor in his eyes. He slanders his rivals and plans a scheme with the social democrats on the town council. While honeymooning with his wife, he finds a way to do a favor for the Kaiser and in return he is allowed to give the address when a statue to the Kaiser is erected in his town. Hessling is a "schnorrer" who only does things to advance himself; he is what we today call a "suck-up" or a "brownnoser".
At the time that the film was set, Germany was already an empire and Kaiser Wilhelm II was Kaiser. We watch Hessling's life from his youth, university and military days to his rise into the elite Prussian circles of his small town, Netzig in the 1880's. Hessling has learned to be subject to his superiors, to endure humiliation and to denounce those below him and to use power over them. We watch as he takes over his father's factory, joins the conservative-nationalist party, becomes a member of a war club and marries a rich heiress. The height of his career comes when he delivers a tribute to the Kaiser as he uses phrases of patriotism for national authorities. When the skies open and a thunderstorm occurs, the ceremony is interrupted and the entire place is cleared of people and Hessling stands there alone, wet and dejected.
The final shot of the film is chilling--the emperor Wilhelm II as a monument--and directly references the dark future of Germany which as we know included two World Wars. We question if these wars came about because of the absolutism of Prussia and the servility of the German people.
The film looks allegorically at Wilhelminian Germany and the characters beautifully represent the institutions that guided Germany--schools, the military, universities and government. We see the relationship between absolutism and enthusiasm for war. Werner Peters as Hessling is brilliant and his portrayal is one of the finest performances in the world of cinema. The satire is sharp, the plot is funny and intelligent and although the jokes about stupidity, lack of heroism and worship of the Kaiser may seem dated, they still deliver a very hard story. The direction is perfect and the entire cast is brilliant.