Monday, September 10, 2007

The Subject

Der Untertan; satire, Germany, 1951; D: Wolfgang Staudte, S: Werner Peters, Paul Esser, Ernst Legal, Sabine Thalbach, Renate Fischer

Around 1870, Diederich He├čling is born in Prussia. During the course of his childhood, he learned to fear his father, doctor, professor, God and chimney sweep. As a student he fell in love with Agnes, but left her because she wasn't a virgin and because he was chased away by some student. In the German army he was also humiliated by the Sargent. The result from such a life: Diederich became fascinated with power and submission and learned to work according to law. He became the owner of a paper factory and fired lovers because they weren't married. On his honeymoon, he met the symbol of power: emperor Wilhelm II. He became obsessed with making a statue of him in his town, which he achieved. But on the day of the revealing of the statue, everything was ruined by a storm. Wilhelm II. later ruined Germany with World War I.

Brilliant farce "The Subject" is a small jewel of German cinema that enchants with dynamic, extreme visual style: the subjective perspective of the main protagonist as a child filmed with a foggy lens (maybe serving as a symbol for lack of awareness), a fast forward scene, unusual camera angles that seem as if they were made 40 years in the future (reminiscent of some Soviet director like Kalatozishvili or Eisenstein) and are quite bizarre, always challenging the perception, like when the camera approaches very close to the glass cup and follows it as it travels from hand to hand of some gentlemen who drink from it. But except for style, the director Wolfgang Staudte also managed to insert substance into this film, the adaptation of the novel with the same title by Heinrich Mann, thanks to a spicy story: the protagonist Diederich developed an obsession with power and became a robot that only follows the laws and nothing more (he even fires a couple from his factory because they are not married, thus not withholding the authority and implicitly refusing his totalitarian mentality). His motto became to bow to those at the top and tread on those below, which created an interesting allegory about submission and domination, while Diederich's nationalism created an allusion to Nazism and the downfall of militarism, causing the film to get banned in Germany until '57. "The Subject" is truly unusual, but it is a virtuoso directed, shining satire about authority, obedience, slavish mentality and egoism, with a clever analysis of these kinds of human tendencies and features.


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