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Mephisto (1981)

This Hungarian/German production, directed by Istvan Szabo and based on a novel by Klaus Mann, launched the international film career of Klaus Maria Brandauer who was later to appear as lead villain in a Bond film.

It’s story is of an ambitious but not especially talented German actor Henrik Höfnik who sells his soul to the Nazis for the rôle he has always coveted: Mephisto in Faust.

He only realises – too late in the day – how he is being used, despite the warnings of his communist-acting friends and black lover Juliet, many of whom are arrested by the Nazis.

The story is all the more chilling as it’s a German film and Brandauer gives such a brilliant depiction of an actor.

I remember seeing the film shortly after its release and the great impression it made.

At present I am revisiting such films to see how well they have worn the test of time. This one has.

My appreciation and enjoyment were marred as my DVD was in German with no English subtitles.

My ‘A’ level German was sufficient to follow 50% of it and to appreciate what a considerable actor the young Brandauer was.

The general level of acting is high – and the grand party set pieces of German aristos and Nazis dancing in white tie would not be out of place for their lushness in a Visconti film. The conceit of a play (Faust) within a film is one that French films often adopt.

In the early 1930s the Berlin studio UFA was Europe’s leading one and where the young Alfred Hitchcock learned his craft at the feet of Fritz Lang.

Goebbels – a film buff – and Lena Riefenstahl led to an association with Nazism and then the emigration of talent to Hollywood including Lang and then the decline of their film industry.

Although Germany has since produced some magnificent films like Das Boot and Downfall, these tend to be more sporadic.

One should also note televised productions like Deutschland and Berlin Babylon.

However they are yet to find a global star like Marlene Dietrich or Klaus Maria Brandauer.

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts