|Index||3 reviews in total|
Hans W. Geissendörfer's film of Mann's great novel meets its challenges well. It's long, like the book, and it's discursive, like the book, but it works in cinematic ways too. The director's screenplay solves the most nagging problem of adapting THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN--how to deal with the long monologues of Settembrini and others--by simply reducing them to their essence. Yes, a lot is left out, and we really only get a taste of what the garrulous characters are all about, but this seems the best solution. There is a lot in the novel that lends itself to a film treatment. Some sources tell us that no expense was spared in bringing the Berghof Sanatorium to life, and this certainly shows on the screen. Readers of the novel should be pleased with this aspect of the realization: a Grand Hotel for the sick and dying, where nearly every manner of psychological and philosophical drama is played out in some way. This is a sumptuously mounted film--to be taken seriously, it could be no other way. The cast, too, is well-chosen and up to the task. As the most important figure, Christoph Eichhorn has a full grasp of Hans Castorp and he never falters. Numerous minor roles are filled with fine detail by superb performers. Uncle James Tienappel, Dr. Krokowski, Cousin Joachim Ziemßen, the devoted Fräulein Engelhart, the hysterical Marusja, all come to believable life. In major roles, Rod Steiger, Marie-France Pisier, Charles Aznavour and Flavio Bucci inspire no criticism either. Steiger (dubbed in German, as are several others), perhaps unexpectedly, avoids exaggerating his Mynheer Peperkorn while capturing the over-sized visions of the character. The beautifully filmed imagery in this film is underscored by a strong musical score by Jürgen Knieper. It evokes Mahler, Wagner and Strauss, without ever actually quoting them, and enhances the fin-de-siècle mood. English speakers had to wait a long time to see this made-for-TV film. It has been worth the wait. Highly recommended.
For me, the soul of the novel The Magic Mountain is the clash of ideas
expressed in the incessant arguments between Settembrini (the champion
of the enlightenment values of humanism, democracy, science) and Naphta
(representing a hyper-ascetic belief in religion, war, revolution,
social upheaval and the clash of God and the devil). Later in the book,
Peeperkorn introduces a third view of man centered on, daresay, pagan
values (emotionalism, naturalism, non-idealism and
anti-intellectualism). Perhaps unavoidably, and to its detriment, the
movie gives short shrift to all of these large ideas, and most
lamentably, fails to capture the ferocity of the battles between
Settembrini and Naphta over the soul of Hans Castorp. This makes
unintelligible the climactic confrontation between the two pedagogues
in the snowy field.
Dismayingly, the Peeperkorn of Mann's novel is completely unrecognizable in the movie character. In the book, he is a larger-than-life charismatic figure who draws the other residents into his circle by the elemental force of his personality. In the movie, he is a sad and fearful old man, who feigns defiance of death in several over-wrought scenes not found in the book.
The movie also completely neglects important subordinate themes, such as the lure of Eastern passivity symbolized by Hans' infatuation with Madam Chauchat and her "Kirghiz" (Asian) eyes and exemplified by the sense of timelessness he feels at the Berghof. (This is another topic on which Settembrini frequently lectures young Hans.)
I enjoyed seeing the Berghof scenes brought to life, but, overall, I did not feel this was a successful film adaptation of Mann's book.
I saw the long version of five hours plus on two DVD's, and was
impressed by the acting, the sets, Geissendorfer's conscientious
direction and Michael Ballhaus's elegant camera-work (the snow scenes
especially). It was hard to write a script that would bring out all the
elements of Mann's novel, but I think they succeeded for the most part.
The torpor of life in a TB sanatorium was well captured--Castorp is
never quite sure just how long he has spent at the facility--and the
genial brutality and occasional incompetence of the staff too.
The actors impressed me, with one exception. Christian Eichhorn was young and ardent as Castorp, Flavio Bucci extravagant and impassioned as Settembrini (just as I imagined him from the novel), and Rod Steiger tore a couple of scenes to tatters in an enjoyable way in the third and final episode. Marie-France Pisier is hardly a "listless, worm-eaten Kirghiz-eyed" woman as Mann describes her, but is always striking and lovely to look at. Only Charles Aznavour, badly miscast as Naphta, fails to impress the viewer. What were they thinking of, casting the hapless hero of Truffaut's Shoot the Pianist as a callous totalitarian philosopher?
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