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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

COUP DE GRACE / DER FANGSCHUSS (1976)

It’s tough to be a romantically fatalistic, self-destructive/self-deluded, sexually disturbed Countess in the best of times! Just try playing these psycho-sexual mental games as WWI closes down on your family’s crumbling Baltic estate while the Russian Red/White Civil War spills over your property. Choosing sides & choosing partners barely leaves time to see that the love of your life may be more interested in your handsome officer brother than in you. No wonder Margarethe von Trotta (who stars & co-scripted for her husband/director Volker Schlöndorff) is on edge. It sounds perfectly fascinating, and offers a superb physical look in sharply etched b&w, but it adds up to less than the sum of its ill-fitting parts. And that includes the wildly over-parted von Trotta who comes off as a modern neurotic. The rest of the cast is quite effective, including a fabulous bit of stunt casting in ancient cabaret artist Valeska Gert as a half-mad Aunt. Otherwise, the film's shortcomings in psychological detail and finding simplistic answers to philosophical conundrums are all too typical of Schlöndorff.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT:François Truffaut & Jeanne Moreau set the modern cinematic standard for this sort of thing with JULES ET JIM/’62. But should your interest run toward the military endgame of the Russian Civil War, Miklós Jancsó’s CSILLAGOSOK KATONAK/ THE RED AND THE WHITE/’68 is a tremendous find.

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