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Peter Shelley | Sydney, New South Wales Australia | 05/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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 Mephisto's 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 internationally after the war. 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, and of 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". Szabo 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. It is rumoured that Grundgens was a homosexual, who also had a relationship with Klaus Mann, and while Brandaeur doesn't make this overt, his fay dancing and the platonic marriages he enters into may reveal subtext."
Sleeper and Must-see for All
E. Dolnack | Atlanta, GA USA | 12/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mephisto is a brilliant film. Klaus Maria Brandauer is possibly one of the greatest living actors today and this is probably his key role. It is based on a novel written by Klaus Mann (son of the famous German author Thomas Mann), which is loosely based upon the real-life story of Klaus's actual brother in law, famous German actor Gustaf Grundgens. (Grundgrens is mostly known to us for his role as the criminal-organization leader in Fritz Lang's "M").
Isvan Szabo directs this stirring character-study with depth and sincerity, asking us to question: "If a particular culture is guilty of crimes against humanity, is it's art also guilty?". The viewer is left to decide for themselves, but the ride is well worth it in the end.
This is the story of a man who must decide whether to do what he thinks is right, or what is in his best interest. I also get the feeling that this character just hates change and would do just about anything, and sacrifice anything, to maintain as much of the status quo as he could in a world that insists that all of its members change radically or be eradicated."
"Heaven Evidently Has Great Plans For Me" ~ Manifestations O
Brian E. Erland | Brea, CA - USA | 02/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Note: German with English subtitles.
Winner of the '82 Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Film, `Mephisto' provides a fascinating glimpse behind the most notorious regime of the 20th century and the elusive spiritual force that energized its rise to power. Klaus Maria Brandauer is brilliant in the role of Hendrik Hofgen, struggling actor in Berlin circa 1930's whose ability to rationalize and dismiss the growing evil of the Nazi party eventually becomes the embodiment of the dictatorship on stage personified in the figure of Mephisto, "The spirit who negates."
Writer and director Istvan Szabo has successfully created a unique atmosphere in this production. It is a play within a play, an extravagant distraction of clever words, color and costume designed to enthrall the audience within the theater while malignant socio-political forces move into positions of power and influence in the world outside.
The viewer is slowly but surely drawn into the inner world of Hendrik Hofgen. As the film progresses one becomes aware of the myriad of layers to Hendrik's persona and eventually you will begin to peel away the various masks he so ingeniously hides behind. While his onstage performances as Mephisto are dramatic and powerful the essence of the Mephistophelian mythos is lived out off stage away from the bright lights. The manner in which he refuses to acknowledge the devastating and threatening effects of Nazism on Germany, along with the mental machinations employed by the deluded artist to justify his choice to stay in the Motherland are all a reflection of a spirit evil he has so unwittingly embraced.
Great film! Definitely -5 Stars-!"
A Movie About Power and Integrity
Glen Koehn | London, Ontario | 08/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Mephisto" carries a big message about integrity and betrayal. Its central character is a conflicted man who plays Mephistopheles on the stage, while offstage trading his own soul to the Nazis for fame and influence.
There is a fascinating background to the film, and to the 1936 Klaus Mann novel of the same title. It's often pointed out that the main character Hoefgen is a portrait of the actor Gustav Grundgens, who was married to Klaus Mann's sister Erika in the 1920's. Another literary connection: W. H. Auden later assisted Erika's escape from Germany by means of a marriage of convenience.
In the film, the devilish Hoefgen marries an angelic Erika figure and there is an amusing scene in "heaven" at the Mann family home where he chokes on the food served. Interestingly, one of the more admirable characters is a sometime Nazi whose courage is a foil to Hoefgen's compromises. There are persuasively menacing analogues of Hermann Goering and Josef Goebbels.
Klaus Maria Brandauer does a virtuoso job acting as the actor Hoefgen. Yet another layer of meaning is added to this complex movie by the fact that its director Szabo was from Communist Hungary, where artists faced their own choices about whether and how to collaborate with authority. Check out the scene where Hoefgen interprets Hamlet to journalists as a National Socialist hero.
Klaus Mann fled Germany before WWII and killed himself in France in 1949, while Grundgens had a notably successful career in the Third Reich and afterward. His Dusseldorf theater made a fine recording of Faust 1 for Deutsche Grammophon in the early 1950's. (It's now out on CD from DG Literatur, available from amazon.de.) Grundgens naturally plays Mephisto."
A great film about a horrible time
Luiza Vartavarian | Chicago | 11/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is one of rich colors and sensual decadence. The exact opposite of Bresson it seems. One thing I find ironic about this film, which i think is the greatest German language film ever made, is that the director himself is Hungarian and Brandauer, who gives a great performance, is from Austria. But by being a film made by a non-German as it is we can have a much more frank view of Nazism and how it evolved into a cancer of callous brutality, so well represented by the corpulent Goering figure that both patronizes and and spiritually sodomizes Branduaer's character. This looks at Nazism as gangsterism, which it very much was in its early years, yet Szabo skillfully conveys what an even greater horror this movement will evolve into by 1939. At a closer level it is also a veiled criticism of the Communist regimes in eastern europe. Both regimes imposed their own nationalist art on their societies and excluded outside influence, they became closed self serving societies with no interest in cooperation and openess. Yet the Nazism in this film is seen as they greatest evil ever to plauge europe in this century. lets hope nothing like nazism ever happens again."