Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Damned

La caduta degli dei; Drama, Italy/ Switzerland/ Germany, 1969; D: Luchino Visconti, S: Helmut Berger, Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Griem, Renaud Verley, Umberto Orsini, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Albrecht Schoenhals, Florinda Bolkan, Nora Ricci, Charlotte Rampling, Irina Wanka

Early 1930's. The Essenbecks are a wealthy family and owners of a steel factory. On the birthday of the head of the family Joachim, the news arrives that the Reichstag is set on fire. Joachim doesn't approve the Nazi party, but wants to work with them anyway in order to keep the business going. That decision angers the liberal Herbert. That night, Joachim is killed by Friedrich who blaims everything on Herbert who has to flee the mansion. Friedrich rises in the hieracrchy and starts a relationship with Sophie, Joachim's daughter. Sophie's son Martin, one of the new share holders of the steel factory, who was interested in in a little girl called Lisa, gets blackmailed by SS officer Aschenbach in order to persuade him to join the Nazi party. Martin sleeps with his mother and froces her to marry Friedrich. Sophie and Firedrich commit suicide and Martin becomes the sole owner of the factory, but also the tool of the Nazis.

"The Damned" isn't an average run-of-the-mill anti-Nazi film, but a symbolic allegory about the state of Germany in those days, in which the growing egoism inside the Essenbeck family, who in order to gain profit with their steel factory decided to collaborate with the Nazis, represents the whole country on a micro scale, creating a variation of "Faust". Even when director Luchino Visconti shows pretentious details, he does it in small amounts so that it can be tolerable, whereas the elegant narration neatly rounds up the structure of the film that plays out almost entirely in the mansion of the Essenbeck family. It's a little bit predicteable that Visconti showed the main antihero Martin, who will in the end join the Nazis, as a lad with bizarre erotic fetishes - he dresses in drag, has a pedophille affection towards the 8 year old girl Lisa (Irina Wanka, who later became an actress) and sleeps with his mother in order to "destroy" her - in order to make his point even more clear, which walks on a thin line between black allegory and caricature, even though the overlong 155 minutes of running time flow rather smoothly. Not every note hits the right mark, yet the actors are all great, especially Dirk Bogarde, and the ambitious message is valid.


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