A movie about the precarious relations, artists and their political masters – Mephisto is 40 years old
Before streaming platforms, the digital libraries and especially before the Internet world, the act of recovering an old film work was not easy. The huge sale in DVD and box sets was still far away, while today it is a concrete reality promoted by the majors.
Thanks to all this, today we can watch many movies of the past in excellent quality, exploring all the almost forgotten cinema. In this article we are talking about “Mephisto”, a 1981 film work directed by the Hungarian Master István Szabó. What better way not to talk about it by virtue of the 40th anniversary of the film.
Some of the most important awards in the world: two prestigious awards at the Cannes Film Festival, an Oscar for Best International Feature Film and much more. Certainly, it does not make “Mephisto” a great film only for the awards obtained, but it is indicative of how much clamour it aroused during its release. We know István Szabó. If not, we will tell about him. Born in 1938, he debuted with his first work “Álmodozások kora” in 1964. From then on, many nominations and awards for the Hungarian director of Jewish origin who directed a film every two – three years until 2012.
Speaking about the extraordinary audio-visual product, “Mephisto” has been able to tell about the human opportunism and the desire to work, despite there is a ferocious regime of crontrol. Based on the novel by Klaus Mann, “Mephisto” tells of Gustav Grundgens, an actor famous for his role as Mephisto in the performances of Faust. Despite being of anti-Nazi sentiments, he is subject to every compromise to continue to be a star on the stage (he denounces colleagues, makes public statements of esteem to Hitler).
This kind of cinema has always fascinated much of the US mainstream, which has fuelled its proliferation. Still today, 40 years after its release in 1981, it is a crude metaphor of the delicate balance between pre-established power and art, where servility and pure talent mix each other and they make it difficult to understand the aesthetic message.
It is a film that also mentions the discourse of the social responsibility of the artist who cannot promote his art by pretending that it is not also part of a political system. In fact, the immoderate ambition, with his sincere love for the theatre, becomes a continuous research for compromise with himself, inhabiting what he believed and believing that being an artist makes him immune from any external influence.
The complexity of the story involves the protagonist’s doubts: a narcissist of a huge ego that causes interpersonal disasters. And a rival who does the opposite path to the main character, turning from a passionate pioneer of National Socialism into a critical spirit, that it destined to fall for contradicting the dictates of the Führer’s mockers.
Although almost two and a half hours long, the film has unequal parts. But its parable on the risk of Art, which is sold as a bargaining chip (and not only because the film has various keys to reading, for example the speech on the willingness of the population to be framed and commanded beyond any logic of coexistence), comes clear, thanks to the test that touches every nuance, from exaltation to contrition. Nuances of an actor who has realized he has something to do with the role of life and does not waste it.