director Volker Schlöndorff
I’m going through my biggest lag in time and backlog of films to write about for some years of late. I’ve been somewhat uninspired on the writing front, no reflection on the movies I’ve been watching, more my own state of being.
Case in point here, Volker Schlöndorff’s 1979 adaptation of Günter Grass’s novel of The Tin Drum. I first saw this movie on cable in the 1980’s. I think it was one of my first foreign films that I’d seen, or at least one of the first foreign films that I’d seen that really had a significant impact on me. NAot sure, but I can imagine having heard of it through Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel’s At the Movies show. Either way, it really struck me.
The strangeness of the film, the story of Oskar Matzerath (David Bennent), a boy who at the age of three decides to stop growing and stay small forever, all in the rising shadow of Nazi Germany. Highly metaphorical and to a large extent stylized with aspects of magical realism, the film is full of vivid and weird images and striking and powerful ideas.
I went on in life to read Grass’s novel, which is also brilliant, in fact featuring much more than is even entailed in this nearly three hour film. I’ve highly recommended it over the years and still do. Grass, of course, much later in life owned up to being a member of the Waffen SS, his greatest crime being in hiding that fact for so long and taking his particular moral stance. I don’t think that it shortchanges the novel or the film, but adds layers on the outside of the whole of the context.
I watched The Tin Drum with my kids, with whom I had discussed the film for a few years, especially in contexts of other films that dealt with similar time periods and subject matters. Oddly enough, they were somewhat ambivalent about the film. It is indeed very long and strange and harsh in ways, but I kind of assumed they would enjoy it more. Maybe they are too young for it.
David Bennent, 11 years old at the time of the film, is a strange and amazing figure, with his intense eyes and mien. Really, he is the film’s utter coup in casting.
A pretty great film, I would say.