Colonel Redl

Klaus Maria Brandauer as Colonel Redl

 

 

 

Colonel Redl is an adaptation of John Osborne’s play A Patriot for Me and charts the rise and fall of a soldier with opportunism where principles should be. It’s a sumptuous affair set in the dog days of the Austro-Hungarian empire and builds slowly towards a painfully frenzied climax, as did the previous collaboration between director István Szabó and actor Klaus Maria Brandauer. And as in Mephisto we’re following a man of few scruples making his way from relative obscurity to the top of his tree – the secret service in this case. Redl was a real man, an officer in the espionage wing of the Austro-Hungarian army who sold his country’s war plans to Russia on the eve of the First World War, thereby condemning thousands of countrymen to their deaths. The Hungarian Szabó doesn’t set out to condemn a traitor. Instead he’s delineating the mindset of someone who doesn’t know who he is. Szabó claimed in interviews when the film first debuted that his reason for making the film was that identity was one of the key drivers of the modern psyche – Redl is ashamed of his homosexuality, his poor background, his ethnic outsiderdom. But Szabó must also have been thinking about identity closer to home – the ethnic fallout from the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian empire was yet to produce the war in former Yugoslavia but the tensions were already there (and still are, all over the former empire).

After Mephisto, made four years earlier, Brandauer had seemed set for international superstardom. He’d turned up as the stooge husband to Meryl Streep and Robert Redford’s lovers in Out of Africa. And he was a Bond villain in Never Say Never Again. Between then and now he has regularly popped up in English language films, often playing the villain, but has seemed happier to work on a broader canvas in German-speaking countries. It’s our loss. Here, as in Mephisto, his performance is a thing of wonder. He conveys every turn of the coat by Redl with a subtle shift of demeanour. If Szabó has given Brandauer all the canvas an actor could want, Brandauer has responded by delivering a beautiful performance of sympathetic villainy – not a white cat in sight. Szabó’s film is undoubtedly a masterpiece and Brandauer is one of the key reasons why.

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

Colonel Redl – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Girl, Interrupted

Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted

 

 

Girl, Interrupted tells the real-life story of Susanna Kaysen, who wrote the original memoir about her enforced stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s. She was banged up after a pills overdose for what was termed a “borderline personality disorder” but the suspicion remains that she was being incarcerated at least partly because she was young, rebellious and pissing off her parents.

Director James Mangold’s film version turns the whole experience slightly into One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest redone as a 1960s Mean Girls drama. Instead of shock therapy there’s the withdrawal of TV privileges, straitjackets have largely been replaced by attentive, pleasant carers. And as for debilitating doses of recreational drugs smuggled in by visitors, there are none. Instead this hospital’s internal black market deals almost entirely in laxatives. Girls, huh.

Winona Ryder plays Kaysen as a teenager incarcerated for wanting to do her own thing. So not actually wacko at all. That role goes to Angelina Jolie, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a girl dealing with psychiatric demons (the Academy does love a sociopath). If it sounds awfully fragrant and a touch like a boarding school melodrama, Girl, Interrupted does have its compelling elements too. Instead of going for Jack Nicholson-style shouting and eye-rolling, it focuses on the intimate and, with calmly assured direction, Mangold teases out small but intensely personal dramas, played out by a cast of names (Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeffrey Tambor) and up-and-comers (Jared Leto, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss). But it’s hard to ignore the charge that it is all a bit too girly. There’s even a midnight feast, for God’s sake. As for the book’s author, she hated it. Girls in their mid-teens might think otherwise.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 Girl Interrupted – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Topsy-Turvy

Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner in Topsy-Turvy

Lovers of costume drama and light operetta are in for a treat. And so are people who can’t stand either, thanks to Mike Leigh, more usually known as a purveyor of working-class drama to the realm.

Taking as its starting point the creative roadblock reached by the librettist WS Gilbert and his writing partner, the composer Arthur Sullivan, after the relative failure of their Princess Ida in 1884, Leigh’s film follows the duo as they struggle towards the rejuvenating success of The Mikado. Leigh’s masterstroke is to weave the composer/librettist’s full antler stand-off – Gilbert wanted to write an opera called The Magic Lozenge; Sullivan most definitely didn’t – with an oblique commentary on our own age’s attitudes towards foreign cultures and techno-gadgetry.

Running through Topsy-Turvy is Leigh’s obvious regard for the librettist’s facility with a lyric, Gilbert’s rhythms as near to rapping as Victorians got. Plus his enthusiasm for Gilbert and Sullivan’s often disparaged collaborations; Leigh serves the musical numbers straight up and wink-free – there’s not a dry irony in the house. All this and a stone-faced Jim Broadbent, playing a bluff Gilbert to Allan Corduner’s waspish Sullivan – two more reasons to see this fabulously entertaining film.

Topsy-Turvy – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2000