Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 Cannes Marathon: The Tin Drum

(Co-Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival)

Based on the novel by Gunter Grass, Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) is the story of a young boy who rebels against the world of adults and society by banging on a tin drum to express his disdain for the world. Directed by Volker Schlondorff and screenplay by Schlondorff, Jean-Claude Carriere, and Franz Seitz with additional contributions from Grass, the film is an exploration of a young boy coming of age in post-World War I Germany as he would deal his surroundings as it would emerge into World War II. Starring David Bennent, Mario Adorf, Angela Winkler, Daniel Olbrychski, Katharina Thalbach, and Charles Aznavour. Die Blechtrommel is an extraordinary yet sprawling drama from Volker Schlondorff.

The film explores the twenty-year journey of a young boy who at the age of three would experience an accident that would prevent his body from growing as he comes of age from his birth in 1924 to the end of World War II as he bangs a tin drum to deal with his disdain for the world around him. All of which is told from his perspective from the day his mother was conceived to how he was born as Oskar (David Bennent) deals with his surroundings as his mother Agnes (Angela Winkler) is married to the shopkeeper Alfred (Mario Adorf) yet has an incestuous affair with her Polish cousin Jan Bronski (Daniel Olbrychski) whom Oskar thinks is his real father. In reaction to his lack of growth and understanding about the world, a tin drum Oskar was given by Jan at age three would be his outlet for his frustrations as he would be connected to it. Any chance it’s taken a way from him, he would yield high-pitch screams that are strong enough to break glass as it would be the kind of talent that would help him survive despite his encounters with tragedy.

The film’s screenplay is very grand as it starts off with the conception of Agnes by her mother Anna (Tina Engel) who meets this strange man while hiding from the police. Years later as she becomes a grandmother, Anna (Berta Drews) would watch over her family as she watches Oskar become rebellious as the two would encounter tragedies and events that would shape their home of Danzig as it was once a place where Germans, Poles, and Kashubians would live together. Yet, the arrival of Nazi Germany and Alfred becoming part of the movement would cause a lot of issues as his marriage to Agnes would suffer. Much of the film’s first half is about Oskar coming of age while his tin drum is the one thing he carries as it represents the child in him as well as his thirst for rebellion and chaos such as causing a disruption during a Nazi rally.

The film’s second half takes place at the start of World War II as Alfred hires a housekeeper named Maria (Katharina Thalbach) who would become Oskar’s first love despite the fact that he still looks like a young boy. Yet, their relationship is complicated by Alfred’s presence as well as the chaos of war where an encounter with the midget circus master Bebra (Fritz Hakl) would have Oskar be part of a traveling circus troupe to entertain Nazi officers and soldiers where Oskar would fall for the performer Roswitha (Mariella Oliveri). It would all play to the sense of journey that Oskar endures as he would try to hold on to some semblance of innocence that he would have as a child but the complications in being an adult as it’s a film about not just growing pains but also a boy becoming a man through the most troubling of circumstances.

Volker Schlondorff’s direction is very stylish in not just some of the surreal elements that he creates as it has elements of satire. There’s also moments in the film that are gripping to watch such as a key scene in the second act where Oskar is with Jan at a Polish post office on the day World War II began as well as some chilling scenes involving the war. Yet, the intense moments involve some scenes at the home Oskar lives with his parents that includes this very powerful argument where Oskar watched his mother feel hurt because she didn’t want to eat eels that Alfred cooked as looking at them made her sick. It would add to some of the drama that would occur that would shape Oskar in his growth. Especially in his angst as the drums and his screams serve as his emotional outlet that would often cause chaos in his surroundings as much of the film is shot in West Germany with some amazing wide shots along with some close-ups and medium shots that Schlondorff would use for the drama.

The direction also has moments where Schlondorff creates an element of fantasy such as a book about Rasputin that Oskar was reading as it comes to life as well as his birth scene. There’s also moments where Schlondorff pushes buttons such as a scene where Oskar and Maria are undressing to go into the beach as it plays to Oskar’s growing fascination with sex. Especially as it creates some ambiguity over Oskar’s relationship with Maria as she would eventually be pregnant as it would later play to Oskar going into his own personal journey in his encounter with the Nazism and war. The film’s ending is about not just the end of his journey with his tin drum but also where he would go as the war ends as well as the fact that his home for twenty years will never be the same. Overall, Schlondorff creates a very fascinating and intoxicating film about a boy coming of age in early 20th Century Germany.

Cinematographer Igor Luther does fantastic work with the very lush and colorful cinematography from the way some of the interiors look with its vibrant colors to some of the gorgeous imagery for some of the exterior scenes. Editor Suzanne Baron, with additional work by Peter Adam for the director‘s cut, does excellent work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward with some rhythmic cuts for the intense moments in the drama and war scenes. Production designers Piotr Dudzinski and Zeljko Senecic, with set decorator Bernd Lepel and art director Nikos Perakis, do amazing work with the set pieces from the home where Oskar lived in to the Nazi rallies and places Oskar performs at.

Costume designers Inge Heer, Dagmar Niefind, and Yoshio Yabara do brilliant work with the evolution of the clothes in Oskar‘s life from the uniforms he would wear later on to the dresses that his mother wore. Makeup artist Ruzica Vidmar does terrific work with some of the makeup that includes the stuff Oskar wears in his days at the circus. The sound work of Peter Beil, Walter Grundauer, and Peter Kellerhals is superb for the way the tin drum sounds as well as Oskar‘s screams plus the scenes set during the war and such that would surround Oskar. The film’s music by Maurice Jarre is great for its mix of bombastic orchestral music with some somber pieces along with percussive-based themes and themes that involve the didgeridoo.

The film’s incredible cast includes some notable small appearances from Heinz Bennent as a scoutmaster friend of Alfred in Greff, Andrea Ferreol as Greff’s wife Lina whom Oskar would later have an affair with, co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere as Rasputin, Wojciech Pszoniak as a Jewish shopkeeper who appears late in the film, Roland Teubner as Oskar’s grandfather, Fritz Hakl as the midget circus master Bebra, and Mariella Oliveri as the performer Roswitha whom Oskar would have a relationship with. Tina Engel and Berta Drews are wonderful in their respective roles as the younger and older version of Oskar’s grandmother who has a penchant for hiding things under her skirt. Charles Aznavour is terrific in a small yet memorable performance as the Jewish toyshop owner Markus who has feelings for Agnes while always providing Oskar with a new tin drum.

Daniel Olbrychski is excellent as Oskar’s uncle Jan who had always been kinder to Oskar while maintaining his love for Agnes. Katharina Thalbach is amazing as Maria as the housekeeper Oskar falls for as she would later forge a relationship with Alfred causing tension between the two. Mario Adorf is superb as Oskar’s father Alfred as a man who is a talented cook and shopkeeper who joins the Nazi party in the hopes it would help Germany until its new rules forces him to question his allegiance. Angela Winkler is brilliant as Oskar’s mother Agnes as she is this woman who adores her son while being torn in her devotion to Alfred and Jan. Finally, there’s David Bennent in a remarkable performance as Oskar as this young boy whose body wouldn’t grow since the age of three as it is a truly fierce and wild performance as a young boy who is this mix of boyish charm with the intelligence of a man as it’s a truly unforgettable performance from the young actor.

Die Blechtrommel is a tremendously sprawling yet touching film from Volker Schlondorff that features a magnificent performance from David Bennent. The film isn’t just an offbeat yet compelling coming-of-age story but also a film that explores a boy dealing with adulthood and the emergence of Nazism in his small German town. In the end, Die Blechtrommel is a phenomenal film from Volker Schlondorff.

Young Torless

© thevoid99 2014


Anonymous said...

I really need to just buckle and watch this. It has been sitting on my DVR for over a year.

thevoid99 said...

It's a long film but it didn't feel very long. BTW, which cut of the film do you have? I have the 163-minute director's cut which is the version I saw.