Tonio Kroeger is an exquisite visualization of the short story by Thomas Mann, with production supervised by his daughter Erika. Mann's semi-autobiographical story portrays the struggles of a sensitive young writer to overcome his artistic detachment from the world he seeks to describe. As Mann himself he stems from the northern Hansestadt Lubeck, the son of a bourgeoise merchant and an exotically beautiful mother. In this quest he travels south to Italy, where he finds intoxicating beauty, captured on film in ravishing chiaroscuro lighting and marvelously choreographed to operatic choruses (Verdi's Don Carlos). Yet he cannot connect with the furtive romance he finds, and flees northward to Munich. There he visits his confidant Lisaveta,a rather distractingly beautiful artist, who chides him as a bourgeoise disquised as a writer. Driven ever northward, he returns to his childhood home, Lubeck, captured in misty dreamlike images, rigid and stark. Finally he travels to a sea-resort in Denmark, where his experiences with a group of folk-dancers enable him to reconcile his conflicting yearnings.
I have seen this film many times, and, as in the case of Sunrise, find new delights each time. Above all the visual delights - long scenes without dialog perfectly mated to operatic music. Lingering shots in an ancient italian churchyard where the camera virtually caresses the contours of sensual statuary. A wordless encounter with a prostitute, punctuated by streetsounds, a lone barking dog. The unforgettable scene in the Munich Hauptbahnhof as Tonio bids farewell to Lisaveta, his train engulfed in great swirling clouds of steam. Solitary nightwalks in Lubeck, the icy fog pierced by spires like menacing black icicles. Tonio wandering the windy shore in Denmark, dreaming of the faithful Lisaveta. There are intellectual delights as well, Mann's mellifluous German prose gracing a superbly crafted film.
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