Mephisto (1981) Poster

(1981)

User Reviews

Review this title
26 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Inner Darkness and Outer Exposure
csm237 March 2003
We're all familiar with the archetypal Faustian Bargain, where, in exchange for your soul, the devil grants your wishes. But Why might someone might want to make such a bargain? I mean, there are the common lusts and desires; but, the question still remains: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Mephisto suggests an answer. And it's not to be found in evil machinations of the Prince of Darkness and his minions, or any such nonsense. It's found in the human psyche.

Brilliantly played by Klaus Brandauer (Out of Africa, White Fang), Hendrik Hoefgen is a man haunted by insecurity. At the core of his being is shame. From the age of twelve, he tells his wife, he's always felt ashamed. So he always wears a mask, because he dare not expose his true identity to anyone, for fear of rejection. To hide himself and to medicate his feelings, he adopts a strategy that is all too common: he overcompensates. He buries himself in his work, identifies himself with his work, and becomes an empty creature playing to the crowds, a social chameleon who's a nobody adroitly playing a role. He constantly works on and perfects his social image, alert to the smallest hint of disapprobation in anyone. In this endeavor, his practiced talent of self deception aids him: He says to himself, after he's sold out to the Nazis, that he's satisfied with his success, because it means that many people love him. He's the perfect actor, even for himself. He's a public persona, nothing more. In the flower of his fame, he's a hollow shell. Mephisto is the most brilliantly produced drama on this subject I've ever seen. It's absolutely enthralling. I highly recommend it as one of the best films ever made, by anyone.
67 out of 72 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
A Szabo Masterpiece
Bucs196024 September 2005
What a wonderful film!! Klaus Maria Brandauer brings all his talents to bear in the story about an actor who sells his soul to the Devil, in this case Nazism. The character of Hofgen is based on the real-life Gustav Grundens, an actor whose star rose with the rise of the Third Reich and who was championed by Goering (the General's character in the film). Grundens was a homosexual but this issue is sidestepped in the film and instead the character of Hofgen is involved with a beautiful female dancer. Brandauer is magnificent as the passionate but doomed actor who must renounce his family, betray his friends and throw aside his honor for the price of fame. In the end, like Faust, he must pay the devil for his success. The film starts a little slowly but stay with it to see an acting tour de force. You won't be disappointed.
31 out of 35 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Mephisto or Faust?
debonville4 February 2002
This film faithfully recreates the novel written in 1936 by Klaus Mann. It is a reflection of the age old temptation of Man, the story of Goethe's Faust. Karl Maria Brandauer is magnificent as Hendrik Höfgen, the obsessed "actor" who will do anything to gain wealth and fame. He first betrays the world around him, and then his inner values are swept away as he finally enters the inner sanctum of Nazi Germany. Is true theatre on stage or in the handshake that Höfgen makes in the prime minister's box behind the audience? Everything in this movie revolves around Höfgen's downward spiral into the abyss; the initial ascent to stardom was but an illusion. Mann instinctively knew that tragedy would befall his country when a pact was made between Hitler and the financial, industrial and military élites of Germany - remember the book was written nine years before that country's downfall. View the movie and read the book. Two truly artistic achievements! Thumbs up to István Szabó and K.M. Brandauer who managed to reveal everything in Höfgen's character.
44 out of 52 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Before "The Truman Show", "Mephisto" asks its audience, what is good entertainment?
lefty-1110 January 1999
Another disturbing film about the complicity of ordinary people in fascism, which explores similar territory to "Cabaret", "The Conformist", "The Leopard" and "The Remains of the Day". It argues that fascism demonstrates how difficult it is to separate one's public and private roles and beliefs from politics. The title character, an actor, starts to realise how his "make believe" public role has very real, tragic consequences. In this sense, the film has merit beyond its superb acting and other technical features: it subverts the liberal pieties of Hollywood drama which resolve all conflict within the confines of the existing social system. It undercuts the banality of much film criticism which says it is "just entertainment" with "no subtext"- as if produced in a social/historical vacuum with no point of view. In short, the film argues that artists, like everyone else, have to take some responsibility and assume a critical role or risk being haunted, like Mephisto, by the awareness that they have become pawns in a dangerous game.
36 out of 42 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Better The Devil You Know...
Xstal25 August 2020
...and be careful what you wish for. A German actor, in the 1930s, against best advice and with only himself in mind, continues to pursue his thespian fantasies while his friends and colleagues flee.
12 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Mephisto is magnificent
aussiebrisguy23 July 2006
What can one say about this film apart from it being totally brilliant? Klaus Maria Brandauer is ideally cast in the role of Hendrik Hoefgen. The character of Hoefgen is a thinly disguised version of the famous German actor and Director of the Prussian State Theatre in Berlin, Gustav Grundgens. Grundgens compromised with the National Socialist authorities under Hitler to retain his role in the theatre. Others left as they did not want to be associated with the Third Reich and all its horrors. Marlene Dietrich was one such person. Grundgens remained. This film is a classic for any drama student as it shows the state of theatre in Germany before the rise of the Third Reich in Germany. It very clearly depicts theatre pre-1918 and also the early and important work of Bertolt Brecht. The thuggery of the Nazi German regime is clearly exposed with all the filth who polluted the upper echelons of society down to the working man. This is a brilliant piece of film making. Don't miss it as it is gripping drama.
20 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Klaus Maria Brandauer is magnificent
faraaj-18 October 2006
Klaus Maria Brandauer, the celebrated German stage actor, is not really a big fan of cinema. Largely unknown to cinematic audiences, he made a big splash with his debut Mephisto.

Mephisto is the ancient legend of the man who sells his soul to the devil in return for worldly gains - as told by Faust. Klaus plays a Hamburg stage actor famous for his portrayal of Mephisto on stage. Flirting with socialism, he embraces the leadership of the Nazi party in order to move to Berlin and rise in the theatre hierarchy. He does rise and continues to ingratiate himself with the Nazi Generals and Prime Minister and rises to the very top where his full oratorical abilities can be displayed. He also shows a complete lack of self respect or conviction for anything but his personal worldly success and power - which he does use on occasion to save less favoured colleagues.

Klaus has given a remarkable performance in this film - all physicality. Throughout much of the movie he is poker faced and relies on his hands and his body to express himself fully. Its a very unique, one-of-a-kind performance that makes this film so watchable. The narrative itself is chopped and may sub-plots are introduced then cut short.
20 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
What would you have done?
borisnenchev26 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Even after seeing Szabo's "Mephisto" a couple of times, it is still difficult to see through the actor Hoefgen, played brilliantly by one of the best actors, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Accompanying his rise to prominence, the viewers come to face important questions about morality, friendship, leadership, fame...

At the beginning, Hoefgen dislikes the upcoming and dangerous Nazi clique. Yet, when he realizes that they are willing to give him the chance to become famous and respected, signs of hesitation can be hardly found - he grasps the opportunity to be in Berlin and be a director of the National Theatre. "I'am not interested in money", he says, however, he has already sold his soul to the devil (the Nazi party). Hoefgen has become the victim of his acclaimed theater character, Mephisto. Mephisto of the real world offered him to "win the crown of mankind" as Hoefgen did in his theater role, and the latter willingly accepted it. He closed his eyes to the beatings of the Jews he witnessed, the expelling of his lover, the escape of his wife, the banning from theater of his friends, etc.

And yet, has he become the reincarnation of evil, the real Mephisto? I am inclined to think that Hoefgen had good intentions about his closest who opposed the system. This is shown by the fact that he insisted in front of the Nazi officials for his black lover to leave Nazi Germany safely and that his friend, Ulrichs, be rehabilitated. And he did it successfully. At that point comes the question whether Hoefgen made the right choice - should he have gone to the opposition and thus failed to save anyone, or he did the right thing by accepting Mephisto's offer and becoming a man of certain influence which he used to save his closest? Then again, do you close your eyes to the brutality around you as long as you and your friends are safe? A very interesting comparison can be made between the actor Miklas, played by the Hungarian Cserhalmi and also seen in the Czech Oscar-nominated production "Zelary" and other legendary films by the Hungarian directors Bela Tarr and Miklos Jancso, and Hoefgen. The former is an ardent supporter of the Nazis at the beginning but later becomes disillusioned and chooses the opposition. Hoefgen, on the other hand, moves in the opposite way in the movie. From an opponent of the Nazi "Mörderpakt" ("murderous thugs") as he calls them at the beginning, he becomes a follower (albeit no participant) and goes as far as to betray Miklas and his plan to the Nazi officials, resulting into Miklas' death. At the moment when Hoefgen learns about his death, he refuses to believe he was murdered but instead insists it was a car accident. In the close up of Brandauer's face talking to the woman, I believe the viewer can read regret in his eyes...

Through both characters, and mainly through Hoefgen, Szabo raises the topic of the role of the intelligentsia in the Nazi rise to power. What were they supposed to do? The ones in the opposition either died or went into exile (as Hoefgen's wife). The rest followed the Nazis, willingly or not. In that age of hopelessness, should one sell his soul to Mephisto as Hoefgen did - then rise to power and save whomever you can? Overall, are we from our position nowadays able to judge how the intelligentsia/the actors should have acted? "Mephisto" has to be seen in the light of Szabo's life. It was recently revealed he was an informant for the Hungarian government in the 50's. In an interview he claimed to have saved himself and a friend of his from "being gibbeted". Resemblance to Hoefgen...? The towering performance of Brandauer as Hoefgen is absolutely stunning. His face, stature, looks, eyes, everything fits perfectly into the image of the divided personality of the main character (indicative of this personality is the Nazi general's inquiring why Hoefgen has such a soft handshake). Regarding the images, there is hardly a viewer who can forget Mephisto's white face on Brandauer and the shots of Hoefgen's moments of madness, estimation, megalomania, anger...

Especially powerful is the last scene where Hoefgen is running and trying to hide from the giant searchlights of Olympiastadion in Berlin, his curved, almost crying face, and saying, "Was wollt ihr von mir? Ich bin nur ein Schauspieler.", "What do you want from me? I'm just an actor........"
14 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
the Devil doesn't always carry a pitchfork
lee_eisenberg8 June 2005
Everyone knows the story of Faust: a man sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for something. Well, as we learned in the Rolling Stones' song "Sympathy for the Devil", the Prince of Darkness doesn't necessarily appear as a mustachioed red being with a bifurcated tail. In "Mephisto", the Devil appears as an ideology-turned-governmental-system: Nazism. And in this case, the Devil doesn't request your soul, but rather a favor: that you work for it. Such is the fate of actor Heinz Hoefgen (Klaus Maria Brandauer). Hoefgen has felt shame all his life and has often worn white make-up, as if to hide behind it. But the Nazis make him feel powerful, and so he works for them; metaphorically, he sells his soul to them.

"Mephisto" proves not only the mastery of Germany's film industry, but also what a great director Istvan Szabo is (also shown in "Sunshine" and "Being Julia").
26 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Interesting film with fine ensemble playing
Loulou-87 November 1999
This was a superbly acted and visually stimulating film.

The most interesting element for me was Hendrik's refusal to allow his conscience to interfere with his life's work as an actor. Being an actor, and more importantly an actor able to act in his mothertongue in his own land, is all to this man. Initially indifferent to the rise of the Nazis, unable to accept that their government will change his life, he follows them and befriends a high-ranked Nazi so that his "art" might continue. But it can never be as it was before. Yet he continues to do as he is told, to use the theatre as a propaganda medium, without questioning the consequences.

He cannot admit to himself that he has made the wrong decision and even when he is in Paris and is presented with another opportunity to escape the Nazi regime, he returns to Germany to the pursuit of his theatrical life, no matter how restricted it is.

Excellent film with a very good lead performance.
19 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
The machinery of self
chaos-rampant22 July 2012
This is not as deeply felt as Tarkovsky, nor as ambiguously sketched as Resnais. It works from a 'real world', a historic one at that. But it's a good film because it's committed to clearly spin and align the different layers of self.

The story is Faust, both the film and the play-within. Our film is about an actor who sells his soul for a gilded life on the stage, the play is where he is Mephisto - not Faust - and tries to reason with his decision to be Faust, and a third layer is about an era, Nazi Germany in the early years that was also about a Faustian bargain and staged images of power. The protagonist is an actor from the German stage and plays one. It has a Hungarian filmmaker at the helm who knows probably too well the type of life from the Eastern Bloc.

So this succeeds where Hollywood's Cabaret felt contrived and false, because everyone is a step closer to the nervous soul of that world.

Something is quite brilliantly handled here, and I believe it's this; one of the conceits of our actor, a leftist in the early days, is for a Peoples Theater that directly involves and agitates into action. Of course that's all gone when the Nazis come into power, with their Wagnerian notions on the ideal and the pure. He has to do Hamlet, the ambition however is still the same, a play that involves the audience, but in this environment seems ludicrous and hypocritical. It's a state-sponsored event after all.

Now we see several excerpts of Faust, and more shots of our man backstage in pale Mephisto make-up acting the role in real life, but we never see Hamlet. We never see just how he intended this Peoples Theater. We skip to the curtain call and rapturous audience applause.

But of course, the main thrust of the film is that of a man, and later society, that simply doesn't know where the stage ends and life begins. His way of involving the people, in a broad sense, is acting out in this world that is all about posturing and pretending, but doing so in a way that actually saves lives.

The man can thrive in this world, because the world has shifted to align with what he was all along. He doesn't become true, the world becomes as false as he is. It's the stage and lights that shift, so when the narrative planes align for us, we understand that all along he was a decent human being. The chilling finale has him on that stage that is the yawning void where the machinery of self is decided.

Just who controls the lights that he acts to?
8 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
This movie makes you think.
pderkx9 September 2001
Warning: Spoilers
If I would have to choose the best movie ever (a ridiculous question) I would opt for this one. It is entertaining and beautifully made, but it also gives you a lot to think. The film shows how a series of rather small understandable compromises, none of them very terrible in itself, can slowly lead to erosion of character and morality and in the end to terrible things, like siding with the Nazis and betraying your lover.
14 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Even Mephisto Has A Faust In Him
Eumenides_03 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Mephisto is István Szabó and screenwriter Péter Dobai's adaptation of Klaus Mann's novel about success-driven actor Hendrik Hoefgen's rise to fame during the Third Reich.

The movie invites the viewer to see World War II from a seldom-explored perspective, that of the arts. We see the blacklisting of communist and jews, the decline in production of foreign playwrights like Moliére, and using culture to spread Nazi values.

And in the middle is Hendrik Hoefgen, an actor who just wants to survive and get fame but by his own fault ends up involved in the higher echelons of the Nazi Party and becomes director the State Theater, immortalized by his performance as Mephisto because of the values this character seems to share with the ideal German the Nazis are trying to create.

The movie poses the question, can art remain pure amidst political times; and if Hoefgen's life is any indication, then no, it can't. It can revolt and flee for safer places, or it can stay and become a corrupted tool of ideology. Hoefgen, although never played as villains, is a deeply flawed man and hardly innocent of his dealings with the Nazis. Throughout the movie he's described as a self-promoter who cares only about himself. Such is his intention to please that he always goes back to the Mephisto role, the one he's more popular with. Eventually one wonders where Hoefgen ends and the character begins, as people call him Mephisto as if that were his real name.

In the end, though, he's more of a Faustian character than a true seductive devil. He symbolises everyone who happily compromised with the the Reich. He's never treated with pity, for it's obvious he knew what he was getting himself into. And yet one can't help feel pity for Hoefgen and the way he slowly loses power over himself until he becomes just a lackey of the state.

Klaus Maria Brandauer gives a magnificent performance as Hendrik Hoefgen. He plays it with an endless range of emotions, so conflicted is his mind. Another great performance was delivered by Rolf Hoppe as the Prime-Minister, a patron of the arts and Hoefgen's admirer and protector. Hoppe plays his character unlike any Nazi I've ever seen, like a real person, which only makes his reserved outbursts more violent.

From a technical point of view, the movie is nothing outstanding. Szabó doesn't impress the viewer with extravagant cinematography, costumes and art direction, which are the staple of period movies. He lets the screenplay and actors do all the work, allowing the movie to develop slowly until the fascinating ending. It may be a difficult movie to watch, but one that rewards patience.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Mask among people
marcin_kukuczka29 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Emotional, furious, frustrated, pretty straightforward, concerned about perfection, so vital on rehearsals...Hendrik Hoefgen, an actor who is found to have an interesting head to be sculpted, a man with his desires and ambitions, an artist who experiences a strange way from Hamburg to Berlin of the 1930s. What does he have to learn on this journey to the great capital and a great career? Some say compromise, others humiliation. If the latter exaggerate, it's going to be the compromise that will lead to something Hendrik would probably never want nor expect...

MEPHISTO directed by Istvan Szabo is a movie based on true events from the life of Gustav Grundgens (1899-1963) and based on the novel by Klaus Mann. Therefore, we could say that it is partly a biopic. Yet, this view would lead to confusion and misinterpretation. MEPHISTO is foremost a film about a life in a particular situation, about decisions one has to make, about burden one has to carry, about misunderstanding one has to prepare for and about treason one has to cope with. Hendrik Hoefgen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) appears to be a very complicated person: he wants to do something powerful yet, he is haunted by insecurity and fear that lie within his four walls of the psyche. As a result, he wears a "symbolic mask" among people. The role of his life is Mephisto which he portrays twice. However, he does not expect that this second time, in order the portrayal to be accepted, he will have to adjust it. Moreover, what he never foresees is that he will also have to adjust his entire life and career in order to exist. The moment that presents his character in a nutshell is the meeting in the theater with Nazi Prime Minister Hermann Goering (Rolf Hoppe) - his behavior changing from insecurity and soft handshake so despised by the new leaders to cold smile and obedience. Then, they will start to "like" him, then, they will call him Mephisto (our "Mephisto"). But is that the only way to popularity?...

But the development of the main character, which is close to masterwork, is not all MEPHISTO offers. It's a movie about a particular reality (presumably a political content) that Germany was exposed to in the 1930s, the reality that never leaves you indifferent. It is a movie that provokes emotional thoughts in any viewer ready to reflect. A pack of fanatical men rule, force a "code of proper beliefs and behavior" and...what to do to survive? Either immigrate or adjust oneself to this reality. Those who reject a new vision of Germany (e.g. Hans Miklas or Otto Ulrichs) experience the worst (of course, communism was another evil of the time); those who immigrate (Hendrik's wife Barbara) are regarded traitors; yet, those who stay and parrot the "pseudoclassic slogans" are, for the time being, used for certain purposes. Yet, not all people can choose...

In this case, a very interesting, though upsetting, facet of the problem is developed: racism. Hendrik's mistress Juliette Martens (Karin Boyd) is black, she wants to have a baby. However, the career of the actor and the director of Berlin theater would come to an end. He cannot dare for love with a black woman. In a memorable scene, she asks him desperately: "What guilt is there to blame on a child born of black mother and white, famous, father?" Then, as he immediately puts aside this question, she shows him an old photo from his childhood in which Hendrik stands upright in his most young, fresh, pure years. Juliette looks at him in despair and says: "Do you still recognize yourself?" I'll leave this thought to you who read... You must see this scene, a little psychological pearl!

The performances are terrific. Klaus Maria Brandauer portrays his part in a very powerful way. You see an actor playing an actor, a mask among people, an actor in his roles, an actor in his life, a person who once appreciated freedom; yet, in time, asks himself "Freedom? What for?" It occurs that the Nazi dominate his life already. I think that if you like Mr Brandauer as an artist, you would definitely regard this role as one of the best ones except for Redl (1985) and Nebuchadnezzar (1998). I am proud to say that Krystyna Janda, a Polish actress, is in this film. Although I don't list her as one of my favorite actresses, I have to admit that she very well fits to the role of Barbara Bruckner, Hendrick's wife. In a memorable conversation in Paris, she does a very fine job showing helplessness, rejection and disgust to what happens in Berlin. The third role absolutely worth consideration is Rolf Hoppe's Hermann Goering - he portrays a real Nazi whose behavior is supported by three pillars of the ideology: POWER, ABSOLUTE PRIDE and INFLEXIBILITY.

As for purely technical aspects, the movie does not boast much. The picture is rather pale and the camera job is also not very outstanding. Yet, Sztabo's film is primarily meant to win by its content, to leave something psychologically precious in the viewers, appears to be more for the MIND than for the EYES. Therefore, this weaker cinematography may be forgiven for the sake of flawless aspects galore.

MEPHISTO, though a sad and rather a depressing movie, is a must see for people who appreciate thoughts, who want to get something from a film. Perhaps not that historical to the letter but a pretty nice insight into a complexity that human appears to be. But see it in spring or summer rather than long, dark and upsetting autumn evenings.
7 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
great concept but not really feeling it
SnoopyStyle26 December 2015
It's pre-War Germany. Theater actor Hendrik Hoefgen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) becomes successful playing Faust. The Nazis take a liking to him and the play. Hoefgen starts abandoning his principles to ingratiate himself with the powerful Nazis. He essentially sells his soul to achieve his dreams which is the same as the character Faust.

Klaus Maria Brandauer is a great actor and he always commands the screen. The story is poetic and presents a compelling idea. The static camera style left me a bit cold. At a certain point, I stop caring about Hoefgen. I don't necessarily care about any of the other characters either. I like the concept a lot more than the actual movie.
5 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Robin Williams's German other half
ferdinand19322 January 2010
Much is said of Brandauer's performance here and it is an actor's performance par excellence: look at me, look at me, I am so good, and don't turn away, look at me again. In this respect he is like Robin Williams in one his manic performances which also craves attention and while Brandauer is a brilliant stage performer - the scenes of him on stage are amongst the best in the whole film - his stage-bound acting style in most of the rest of the film is like some psychopath with ADD.

This gives the film problems because it fails to build empathy with his ordinary situation: how to deal with an evil government and have a conscience. This problem is compounded by the close up camera: we are always looking at his face in some unendurable clinch as he tries to kiss us and ask us how good he is again and again.

The other weakness is the long build to the story. The film takes 40 minutes to become interesting; the preamble is just Brandauer's character being selfish and self-absorbed.
7 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
The Faces of Mephisto
ilpohirvonen3 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Mephisto is a German film by a Hungarian filmmaker István Szabó. It was received very well since it won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and an award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. It's a historical film which takes place at pre-WWII Germany, during the rising of the National Socialists. Even though its references to the epic tale of Faust are obvious, the film doesn't fall to highlighting nor underestimation of the viewer. It's a clever film, characterized by strong aesthetic styling, about art, evil and people living in the shadows of power.

A German stage actor Hendrik Hoefgen has to choose between his political ideologies and his career when the Nazis win the election in the year 1933. He has to abandon the left-wing circles in which he has been working before. He's a married man but has an affair with a black German woman. Germany wants to destroy all arts that aren't truly German, due to which Hendrik gets the role of Mephisto. He has to keep playing this role which is in the popularity of the Nazis, in order to keep his highly valued status.

Faust is Germany's national epic which is an ancient folks tale but generally known as written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It's a story about a man who sells his soul to the Devil. Quite an eternal tale; Faustian contracts are signed every now and then in the modern world. Mephisto is a fictional character in the book. He wagers with the archangel Gabriel that every man can be enticed to join the dark side. Gabriel chooses Faust, a religious servant of God, as their target of the bet. Mephisto sends a plague to Faust's village and the villagers ask for a helping hand from him. But Faust is unable to help the villagers because God doesn't answer to his prayers. Totally desperate, Faust resorts to Mephisto the demon. Mephisto agrees to help but at the same makes him an offer -- eternal youth with all its pleasures. In order to attain this, Faust must sell his soul.

This is how the story goes or at least the original folks tale with which I am more familiar with, compared to Goethe's book. But back to the film. Once, when Hendrik has just performed at stage as Mephisto, he goes up the stairs to the box seat of a Nazi general. The general flatters him and they talk a little. The audience turns around and starts staring at them. The play is no longer performed at stage but in the seats, in the life of the real characters of history. This is the scene where fiction becomes reality. The camera takes a long shot of the theater hall as Hendrik, or Mephisto as the general calls him, shakes hands with the general -- a Faustian contract has been signed.

To my mind, the film realized brilliantly how to use the face of Mephisto. First on Hendrik, then on the German officers around him and then on his wife. The face equals the mark of evil. It represents something Hendrik has now turned into. And, in the final scene, he runs to the field, followed by the spotlight, stops and says: "What do they want from me now? After all, I am just an actor." This reminds one of the actual events that occurred after WWII. The trial of Nurnberg for instance, and other smaller trials. Many artists were accused for working for the Nazis. But Hitler's propaganda-filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, for example said that she only made movies, nothing else. So is one either part of the solution or part of the problem?

The themes of evil, art and inner darkness characterize this aesthetically stylized historical war film. The face of Mephisto turns into an icon which collects symbolic meaning to itself. It's a mask, so what do we find behind it when it is dropped down and the truth is revealed. In the end, when the camera takes a freeze-frame shot of Hendrik's face, we see the truth. The artificiality, the illusionary world and the facade are now destroyed. We see the protagonist as a human being begging for mercy. But not only the face of evil and society are revealed, also the faces of fiction, art and cinema.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
Sorry, but over-rated
joecorb29 October 2006
Having just sat down and watched this film and then having checked the reviews of post-viewing, I find it hard to believe I watched the same film. I was looking forward to see a dark parable on the cost of success and looking the other way, the hunger of adulation and success that an actor craves at any cost. I was however left feeling very under-whelmed at the end the picture. I don't want to destroy the film entirely, it's just that I feel in many regards it's not worthy of the level of brilliance and expectation that its reputation comes with.

The lead character has little in the way of an arc and although I will agree that the lead performance is excellent, it's a shame there's so little for him to do. There is little character growth, he just seems to go through set scenes that are unfortunately predictable and without drive. Intellectual film watchers may watch this film and gaze in wonder at the parables and symbols in this film but I found them awkward and clumsy and the plot only half-explored, as if the director is afraid to create some sort of dramatic tension. Hendrik's affair and story with the black dancer in this film holds a lot of possibilities and could be used to investigate deeper motivations in Hendrik Hoefger and Nazi Germany at large, yet is brutally under-utilized and washes by seemingly without much of a thought.

The problem I feel is that although it does tick many of the boxes for being a smart and intelligent film, it seems to tick these boxes so deliberately as to feel cold. Most of the time the film seems to run through a mental check-list of what respectable cinema should be and although, yes smarts in film is a good thing and should be brought to the table as much as possible, Mephisto seems to have forgotten to bring drive to the story and so it seems to drag out far longer than necessary. I really wish I could like this film but there's too much lacking for me, it just seems too pompous and convinced of its own self-worth for it's own good.
11 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Masterpiece of great Acting
whpratt123 April 2007
Discovered this film which was showing on TV in the early hours of the AM and enjoyed the entire story about a German actor who reached the top of his career in Nazi controlled Germany. Klaus Maria Brandauer,(Hendrik Hoefgen) played the role of this actor who was a perfectionist in his field of acting on the stage and was very successful in performing his role as Mephisto (The Devil) in "Faust" and the German people and Nazi's who loved his performance. The Nazi's decided to use Hendrik Hoefgen as their State Theatre Director and use this position as a propaganda platform in the Threate Arts and deceive the German people. Hendrik Hoefgen had a strong desire to present "Hamlet" to the German people and it seems that once this performance was presented, his career started to decline from the lime lights and the Nazi Government. There is an inter-racial love affair going on by Hendrik Hoefgen which adds a great deal of love and romance besides all his other lovers. Great Film, enjoy.
6 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
What is an actor but a hollow vessel?
wombat-5621 March 2005
I originally saw this film in theaters when it came out, and enjoyed it greatly. A few years later, I saw a dubbed version and was very disappointed. Hoefgen's voice had been dubbed by someone who injected an arch and sarcastic tone, whereas in the original German version, his voice sounded so simple and innocent. (And, of course, the Mephisto sequences lost a great deal in translation).

To be brief, the contrast between Hoefgen's ready protestations of innocence, and the evil that he is supporting are meant to make us ask how we can judge the quality of a man's actions. If we cannot rely on our impression of his honesty, then we must use the consequences of the actions as our yardstick.

It may not be coincidence that this study of an actor's facile slide into fascism came out early in the Reagan administration. Reagan professed his astonishment over Iran-Contra, protestations that were laughable, as he had all but announced what his government was doing. His act wore thin, but not before it reduced the American presidency to a joke; how else can one explain the reelection of Bush II, all hat and no brains, to a job for which he has proved himself incompetent on a daily basis?
7 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
trailer at durniok.com
mdb-3112 April 2006
You will find a trailer at the website about the producer, Manfred Durniok (1934-2003):

http://www.durniok.com/index.php?pid=2202en

It says: Film story, based on the novel "Mephisto" by Klaus Mann, is set in the 1920s in Germany. Its main character, the young actor Hendrik Höfgen, making his career away from the provincial stage, inevitably becomes involved in the turbulent political developments of the times.

The film is an elaborate work of art and, at the same time, a powerful study of ambition, compromise, pragmatism and self-delusion.
5 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Profound Yet Lacking
WhimsicalVonia16 December 2017
Mephisto (1981)

Profound performance, Faustian deal with Nazis. But which one is Faust? A fierce character study: Which is real, mask or no mask?

Intellectual But little character growth, Lacking depth and heart. Academically great, Yet not the most watchable.

(Somonka is a Japanese form of poetry that is essentially two tanka poems, the second stanza a response to the first. Each stanza follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern. Traditionally, each is a love letter. This form usually demands two authors, but it is possible to have a poet take on two personas. My somonka will be a love/hate letter to a film?)

#Somonka #PoemReview
3 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Art and politics
lreynaert29 November 2014
István Szabó's movie is based on the novel with the same title by Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann. There is, however, an essential difference between the treatment in the book and in the movie of the same material: the character and behavior of the actor Gustaf Gründgens, the (ex-) husband of Klaus' sister Erika. Gustaf Gründgens had only one obsession: acting, to become the best actor and that at all costs. For the literary critic M. Reich- Ranicki, Gustaf Gründgens was indeed the best German actor of the 20th century. He excelled in the role of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust (see the movie 'Faust' shot by his adopted son Peter Gorski – one caveat: no subtitles).

The novel and the movie Klaus Mann's novel is basically a sharply defined portrait (and an attack on) of his brother-in-law, the overambitious theater man. In order to fulfill his ambitions, G. Gründgens plays the role of the humble collaborator/servant of all those in power, be they from the left or from the (extreme) right, so also of the Nazis. But, the movie goes one step further. The actor, Gustaf Gründgens, serves as a means to dissect a cardinal human problem: the relationship between art and power (politics). The movie illustrates eminently that an artist (art) should not play the role of an innocent human being in a society full of bloodshed. As André Gide said, 'there is no art without liberty'. An artist (actor) should not collaborate naively with culture barbarians ('When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver'). In any case, for those culture barbarians artists (actors) should only play the part of their negligible foot soldiers, which can be 'crushed like beetles' ('Get out, actor!').

Klaus Maria Brandauer plays perfectly the 'two' Mephistopheles, the 'immoral' character in Goethe's Faust and the 'innocent' political collaborator. He is surrounded by a splendidly directed great cast. This movie, which tackles head on the role of art (movies) itself, is a must see for all lovers of world cinema.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A thoughtful study of moral cowardice
michaelgfalk25 June 2016
Mephisto is disquieting, ironic movie. Its star is Klaus Brandauer, who plays Henrik Hoefgen, a German actor slumming it in Hamburg in the 1930s, and dreaming of stardom just as the Nazis come to power. His moral challenge is obvious: to resist the Nazis, or work within the system? Brandauer is fabulous through the movie's twists and turns, and though occasionally clumsy, manages to convey Hendrik's timidity, self-deception, pride and guilt as he moves through a violent and chaotic world.

The movie is based on Klaus Mann's novel of the same title. Mann was part of a literary dynasty. His father was Thomas Mann, the famous Nobel-prizewinning writer of "Buddenbrooks," "The Magic Mountain," and "Death in Venice." His uncle was Heinrich Mann, a no less famous writer in his day, known to film-goers as the writer of "Professor Unrat," which became the great Marlene Dietrich film "Der Blaue Engel."

The movie, in a way, plays out the debate that the two elder Mann brothers had about art and politics. Thomas always felt aloof from politics, ensconced in the purer regions of art and culture. During WWI, he published a book called "Reflections of an Unpolitical Man," whose title says it all. Heinrich was a satirist, who believed that art must contribute to the betterment of society, and that it could not avoid being political. Their debate continued into the Nazi era, though to say how their minds changed would spoil this film.

"Mephisto" is occasionally a little obvious or simplistic, and some of the minor characters are unconvincing, but Brandauer shines in the main role, and the music, set design and camera-work are superb. A scene early in the movie, when the Hitler Youth meet in the street, looks and sounds like a sick parody of Riefenstahl.

This will always be a timely film, and certainly earned its Oscar.
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Dark and Frightening
billcr1225 August 2012
Klaus Maria Brandauer is Hendrik Hofgen, an actor in Hamburg at a local theater. He gets noticed when he moves to the big time in Berlin. It is the 1930s, and Hitler and the Nazis have just come to power. He must make choices which become a Faustian bargain, as the saying goes. One fellow actor is taken away and shot, and he is told that his friend died in a car accident, and another dies in a convenient suicide. As the world changes rapidly around him, Hendrik learns to play the game and adapt to the new regime. He repeatedly claims to only be an artist, without any interest in politics, however, he has to bow down to the new prime minister, who just so happens to also be a general. He is made the director of a theater and told to produce plays with positive German heritage, and no more French farces, or other inferior foreign material. He does sell out and he is rewarded with a comfortable lifestyle. Brandauer is tremendous, and in just about every scene. The matter of fact acceptance by most of the people to the new Nazi regime is subtle and terrifying. Mephisto is dark and frightening.
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed