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MEPHISTO

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Hungarian period drama — the first film from Hungary to win the Oscar for best foreign-language picture — is making its DVD and Blu-ray debut in the United States (it was released on VHS here in 1994) as Kino Lorber gives it an upgrade that should please foreign-film fans. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 27, 1983.

 

A tortured study in egotism and the lengths to which people will sometimes go to achieve their own ends is the theme in “Mephisto,” which follows an obscure young actor (Klaus Maria Brandauer) on his rise to fame during the beginnings of Nazism in Germany during the 1920s and ’30s.

 

The film hangs largely on Brandauer’s performance as an egocentric whose manic need for attention is forcefully brought home in the film’s first scene, as he sits alone in a theater dressing room, ranting and raving because the leading lady of the evening is receiving enthusiastic applause on stage. Brandauer is but a struggling unknown.

 

      

 

          Klaus Maria Brandauer, 'Mephisto' (1983)

 

Later, when his talent is complimented by the same leading lady, he asks her to repeat it — louder. She does, and the look on Brandauer’s face tells us that such things are what he lives for, and only what he feels he deserves.

 

Brandauer would sell his soul for stardom — and would sell it again to retain that stardom. And that’s precisely what he does when the Nazis take over. His wife, his lover, his friends … all are secondary to his personal desires, and some are occasionally discarded.

 

Eventually, he allows himself to be a pawn, used by Nazis to perpetuate a false image of cultural humanity. And it becomes evident that he has been playing roles for so long, his own personality has become lost in the character shuffle.

 

       

 

Klaus Maria Brandauer (center) in performance makeup puts on a show for a Nazi gathering in 'Mephisto' (1983)

 

“Mephisto” won last year’s Oscar for best foreign-language film, and though it has power and is extremely well-acted, I have to question its being chosen over the Polish “Man of Iron” and the Italian “Three Brothers,” both of which have played in Salt Lake City — and both of which are better films. (But then, whoever said Oscar was the definitive chooser of each year’s best.)

 

A downbeat character study, the biggest drawback is perhaps that the lead character is such a louse. He occasionally shows signs of remorse but each time we think he may take a stand or change his viewpoint, his personal desires get in the way.

 

“Mephisto,” in Hungarian with English subtitles, is unrated but would easily get a hard R for the sex scenes between Brandauer and Karin Boyd as his lover. The violence is mostly off-camera, the profanity is minimal, but the nudity and sex are excessive and unnecessary.