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It is 1740 and the English and French colonial forces are waging war against each other in their struggle to take control of North America. Both powers take advantage of existing tribal rivalries and enlist local tribes, the Delawares and Hurons, on either side of their conflict. Chingachgook, the last of the Mohicans, is now living among the Delaware and is granted the hand of the chief's daughter after saving the old man's life. His marriage is postponed however, when his betrothed is kidnapped by the Huron and Chingachgook sets out to recapture her with the assistance of his white friend, Deerslayer. This rescue is complicated by the interference of white settlers out to make money by collecting Huron scalps and ultimately Chingachgook must unite the tribes against their common enemy, the white man
Chingachgook, a Mohawk-born Delaware warrior, strives to rescue his wife Wahtawah from the clutches of an enemy camp of Huron. Joined by his trusted huntsman Deerslayer, the two confront racist pioneers and brutal British soldiers in their quest. Deerslayer catches the desire of Judith and thus the jealousy of her suitor, Harry. The action of the story functions like a seesaw, characters continuously traveling back and forth between a house on the lake and the Huron camp until the violent climax.
Richard Groschopp's last theatrically released film, Chingachgook, offers a fresh and entertaining look into a genre not familiar in the United States, an Indian adventure film with German actors and direction. Constructed in a manner very different to American films, it asserts a distinct foreign identity through an American locale. Its slow editing style allows the actors to perform in a large frame, emphasizing their movements like dance. Dance is an element of the film that is explored by the director. What appear as silly dances routines placed sporadically throughout the film are referential to the beautiful and precise choreography of fascist-era military parades and functions. This connection reveals Groschopp's ties to the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, working early in his career as a cinematographer for the Olympia films of 1936. Due to Soviet occupation of East Germany at the time of the film's production, there are communist references apparent within the film as well. The Delaware and Huron communities are each portrayed as large, cohesive, units, shown in wide angle shots to reveal the magnitude of bodies, much like Vertov's and Eisenstein's work. A British attack on an Indian camp recalls images of the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin(1925), an obvious reference to Soviet influence on the culture of East Germany.
Aesthetic beauty is important in the film. All of the well intending characters are physically attractive and are framed to reveal their sculpted and/ or shapely bodies. The personalities of the characters fall short of believable, however their interactions with one another are humorous due to their flatness. For example, Judith is attracted to Deerslayer's boyish good looks, and to show her attraction she trips in front of him and falls conveniently into his arms. The painfully stereotypical relationship these two characters have make the film worth watching in its own right, but the film has other merits. It is kinky melodrama with uber-German looking Indians fighting German speaking redcoats. The effect this film had on me (as a upstate New Yorker who grew up where the film takes place) was one that I encourage others to experience.
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