Volker Schlöndorff kick-started the so-called German New Wave with this Bildüngsroman film about an adolescent boy who goes off to boarding school in the years before WWI. The story becomes the inevitable Nazi allegory as young Törless falls in with a couple of bullies who find an easy target when they catch a non-German student stealing. As the psycho/sexual sadism escalates from hazing to torture, Torless finds that he’s both appalled & fascinated with the experience. He knows it’s a test, a rite of passage; but now that he understands the rules, the game loses its hold over him. In a remarkably tone deaf final speech, Törless seems to make a case against moral retribution or accountability. You may hear it otherwise. As so often with Schlöndorff, he gets the details right, casts beautifully, finds a compelling story, but fails to make cinema. He’s like a guy who plays note perfect jazz, but just can’t swing. Most frustrating.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Schlöndorff’s roommate at his boarding school in France was Bertrand Tavernier. He also grew up to be a literate filmmaker whose achievements & faults are remarkably similar to his old roomie’s.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: THE WHITE RIBBON/’09 gets far closer to how the scary soul of pre-WWI Germany was loam for National Socialism seedlings.