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Le Coup de Grace - Criterion Collection
Le Coup de Grace - Criterion Collection
Actors: Margarethe von Trotta, Matthias Habich, Rüdiger Kirschstein, Marc Eyraud, Bruno Thost
Director: Volker Schlöndorff
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
UR     2003     1hr 37min

Passion and politics collide with tragically bleak results in Le Coup de Grace. Dedicating his film to French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville, director Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) emulates Melville's fascination with ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Margarethe von Trotta, Matthias Habich, Rüdiger Kirschstein, Marc Eyraud, Bruno Thost
Director: Volker Schlöndorff
Creators: Anatole Dauman, Eberhard Junkersdorf, Hans Prescher, Geneviève Dormann, Jutta Brückner, Marguerite Yourcenar
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Black and White,Widescreen,Anamorphic - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 05/27/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/1976
Theatrical Release Date: 00/00/1976
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 37min
Screens: Black and White,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 12
Edition: Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: German
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

A substantial cinematic experience worthy of repeated viewin
Ian Muldoon | Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia | 09/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There is much to relish in this fine film, maybe the Director's finest. There is the rich and beautiful black and white compositions that invest every frame with considerable aesthetic power. There are fine performances from all - grave diggers, porters, villagers, revolutionaries, aristocrats. There is stunning direction - one instance is the scene where military officer Erich - the object of desire of Sophie - enters her bedroom with her at her dressing table only to find younger military officer Plessen standing at her bedside about to light a cigarette. We know from a previous scene, that Sophie prefers to makeup her face after lovemaking and it is almost a cinematic convention of old, that lovers light up post coitus. Plessen offers Erich a cigarette, just like the gentleman Plessen is, and just like the gentleman Erich is, he takes it. As this business carries on, the camera remains still, Sophie remains still, Plessen and Erich finally stand still - all the while we the audience see the reflection of the bed in the dressing table mirror LOOMING centre stage, infesting our minds with the wildest possible imaginings no amount of explicit goings on could replace. Silence is held as tension builds and builds and at the moment perfect Erich turns and exits.
It is set towards the beginning of the 20th century at a time when the world was convulsed with KIngs and Queens and those that profited thereby fighting off change; when Nationalism had poisoned the minds of millions; when revolution and world war had laid waste a generation of European men.
The film is, I suppose a love story but it has as ONE major theme among a number the conflict between the world of men and the world of women - not just reason versus feeling but the whole panoply of honour, action, pride, duty, patriotism, class that bedevils many men and which blinds them to life.
I must add, that the final moments of the film, will remain with me forever. Without disclosing that ending, the final moments include a train, filled with soldiers trundling off in to the rest of the 20th century - and what havoc it did wreak!
But to conclude - there is, to use a cliche, something for many different types of movie goer to find in this film - man against man, violence, love, jealousy, the encroachment of change, idealism, politics, war - read at a simple or complex level. One fascinating journey is Sophie's, which in itself, is a rich one.
A brilliant film."
A Race Toward Self-Extinction
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 08/08/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"In the first shot we see Konrad and Erich running through the snow at midnight. They are both Prussian officers who have been reassigned to Konrad's ancestral home and though they arrive under a veil of mortar fire and flares, the mood is one of a midnight frolic between two lovers. When the two enter Konrads home they are greeted by what is left of Konrad's family as if they were two students who have been away at boarding school. And, although the home is a sprawling manor with wings of rooms stretching off in every direction, that night the two sleep in the same room in beds that are only a few feet apart. The next day Konrad tours the grounds of the estate with his sister Sophie and the way Schlondorff situates the two so naturally at one with the land we come to see that these ancestral lands have sacred connotations for these two. Each scene is immaculately composed and richly evocative as anything by Jean-Pierre Melville (Schlondorff dedicates the film to Melville) or Robert Bresson. Even though the film was actually made in 1976 Schlondorff elects to use black and white and the beauty of one black and white composition after another is simply stunning. Some of these compositions also recall some of Bergmans early films. After seeing his adaptations of Musil's Young Torless (1968) and now this adaptation of Yourcenar's Le Coup de Grace (1976) as well as the later Tin Drum (1979) it is clear to me that Volker Schlondorff is a master of the literary adaptation--he not only brings literary material to life (which is no easy feat for the richness of a narrative rarely translates well to screen) but with his carefully composed shots he often foregrounds things that may have been in the original text but that never caught our attention as they do when visualized. There is plenty of dialogue in this film and much literal content (not the least of which is this ripely realized historical moment) to ponder but Schlondorff visualizes each scene with such care and brings about such precise effects that I am tempted to say he exceeds the original texts with which he works.

The cinematography is of the very highest order and the thing that I continue to be impressed by and that lingers in my brain even a day and a half after I watched the film. The other impressive thing about this film is the acting and particularly the performance by Margarethe von Totta who plays Sophie. Since their parents are dead and since Konrad has been away it has fallen on Sophie's shoulders to keep the estate together but we soon find out that the troops that have been stationed at the house have not always treated her with much respect. So when Konrad returns with Erich it is immediately apparent that she feels a great sense of relief that she will no longer have to live unprotected in her home which has been appropriated by officers and now even resembles an officers club or worse, a barracks. It is also obvious that Sophie still holds a flame for Erich who was both Konrad's and her own boyhood friend. But Erich is a complex creature suffering his own wartime wounds and while both Konrad and Sophie (whose estate remains relatively intact) realize that a new age is dawning in Europe, Erich (whose family estate has already been obliterated by war) still clings to those old world order ideals like duty & asceticism as well to the the old hierarchy that preserves those clear social markers that the new world seeks to obliterate. Even though it is Konrad's house, its is Erich who lords it over the rest of the troops and servants; he clings to the war because only so long as the war lingers on will his link with the old world and its anachronistic ideals be preserved. Erich sees himself as the prince of the castle and even though Sophie seems to realize that after the war there will be no more princes and no more castles, and even though her politics favor this transformation of old world to new, she still finds herself irresistably drawn to this old world relic. Perhaps she is drawn to him because he reminds her of the past and is her only link to a time when she felt that her life was rooted and her world secure. But the only desire Erich feels is for Konrad who he imagines to be a Knight like himself--even though, alas, each time we see Konrad he seems to wither away further and further and not so much from his own war wounds as from the awareness of his own insignificance. It is a doomed aristocratic lover's triangle and what they all share is the common fate that none of their desires will ever be fulfilled. It is perhaps no fault of their own that they happen to be aristocrats in a time when aristocrats are rapidly becoming obsolete and are even targeted for being what they are, but their inability to adapt also, at times anyway, appears to be a personal failure for these old world aristocrats simply refuse to function in a world that follows no reliable patterns or set codes of behavoir.

The entire aesthetic of the film seems designed to illustrate the disconnect between each of the respective aristocrat's anachronsitic world views and reality. Again, it is not surprising that Schlondorff dedicated the film to Jean-Pierre Melville as it feels like an early Melville film in the way that it combines two seemingly disparate elements-- a classically, almost clinically, objective lens framing an almost faerytale like trio of privileged aristocrats lost in their own subjective relation to people and things. (I'm thinking here of Le Silence de la Mer & Les Enfants Terribles.) Schlondorff, like Melville before him, is brilliant at showing how each of his characters fail to connect with the outside world and how each of them are lost in their fantasy of what the world should be or once was. Erich still wants to live like a Teutonic Knight and the war allows him to foster that fantasy; Konrad is lost in an equally juvenile fantasy as he believes, or at least entertains the illusion for a short while, that once the war is over the new lords of the world will be artists and poets; but Sophie is perhaps the most tragic of the three because though she does not believe in the old order anymore, she also seems incapable of mustering any new belief in anything or allowing herself even the meagerest of new world illusions to replace the richness of the old world ones. Unlike the men she is incapable of self-deception. Finally, unlike her brother who simply fades out of life without a fight, she at least has the dignity of lucidity and leaves the world knowing full well that for her there is no life in this new world and that extinction is the only fate available to her. Margarethe von Trotta's deeply nuanced performance as the multi-faceted (victimized, hysterical, needy, seductive, vengeful, idealistic, reckless, nihilistic, resigned...) Sophie is unforgettable.

The final irony is that Erich, in a last and futile attempt to preserve the flame of a dying world, is the one who deals the final blow that ends that world forever."
Beyond The Tin Drum
Zarathustra | Sacramento, CA USA | 01/30/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)

"After watching Volker Schlondorff's masterpiece The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel, 1979) from the Criterion Collection for the third time I decided to see more of his films. I started with the Ninth Day (Der neunte Tag, 2004) which illustrates the conflicts faced by a Catholic priest being held in the Dachau concentration camp. Then I saw two more Criterion releases: The Lost Honor of Katherina Blum (Die verlorene Ehre der Katherina Blum, 1975) and Young Torless (Der junge Torless,1966), both of which deal with themes linked to the Nazi rule of Germany in the 1930s and 40s, which tie them to The Tin Drum and the Ninth Day.
When I watched Coup de Grace (Der Fangschuss, 1978), a beautifully presented Criterion release, I didn't see the link to the other Schlondorff films. Coup de Grace is about the end of the Russian Civil War in 1919 Latvia. In a fascinating interview with Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta, the leading actress in Coup de Grace, they both explain in fluent French that many of the combatants returned to Germany to found the Nazi party.
Schlondorff worked as an assistant to many French directors in the early 1960s, including Louis Malle, Alain Resnais and Jean-Pierre Melville, to whom Coup de Grace is dedicated, and is a leader of the New German Cinema. The films listed in this review only scratch the surface. There are dozens of excellent Schlondorff films yet to be discovered.