Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Volker Schlöndorff's 'Der Fangschuß' / 'Coup de grâce' (1976): Take II

Volker Schlöndorff's Der Fangschuß / Coup de grâce (1976) works on several levels. Visually, it's strong yet low-key, shot in black and white. Dramatically, conflict drives plot, albeit in a somewhat eerie way because it seems so matter-of-fact. There is intense but shifting tension between German Freikorps officer Erich von Lhomond (Matthias Habich) and Sophie de Reval (Margarethe von Trotta); and there are matters of war and revolution. The latter combo is starkly brought out by showing the German-Latvian "nationalists" based in a fortified estate vs. their Latvian-Bolshevik-allied challengers, traditionally the poorer workers and crafts-people based in and around Kratovice, the nearby village. The estate or chateau compound seems much like a Mexican or Spanish villa, with an almost Medieval social system being rent apart at the time of the story, post the Great War of 1914-1918 and into the 1920s.
Coup de grâce is based on a 1939 novel by Franco-Belgian writer Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987), but the movie is considerably more detailed in its depiction of warfare and daily life. 

What we see is a strange and disconcerting mix of protocol, decorum, regimentation, and gallows humor punctuated by bursts of emotion and violence -- the latter, however, is often carried out with what seems like no emotion at all, such as the routine killing of prisoners on both sides.
Valeska Gert as Tante Praskovia -- a bizarre character, as you may imagine by this image. Gert actually performed in the 1920s, so the time period covered by the film is something she'd personally experienced. Her role is as a sort of Cassandra, or slightly barmy yet keen observer.
The fate of Sophie's dog "Texas." 
Schlöndorff has made a series of intense, heavy-hitting films, ranging from Die Blechtrommel / The Tin Drum (1979) to Un amour de Swann / Swann in Love (1984), The Handmaid's Tale (1990) to Diplomatie / Diplomacy (2014). 

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.   

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