Mephisto 1981 ***


Hungarian director Istvan Szabo won an Oscar for this mesmerizing drama from 1981, powered by an extraordinary performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer as Hendrick, a German actor playing the role of Faust in the period between the wars. Such success at a time of historical change involves a deal with the devil, and Szabo’s adaptation of Klaus Mann’s 1936 novel captures the moral torment of a performer who realizes that his success is at the expense of his own sense of self. Mephisto has the same sense of divine decadence as Cabaret, and explores the contradictions of on and off-stage performance with real gravity. Topped with a breath-taking final shot, Mephisto is one of the greatest unseen films; a curious footnote is that, like Hendrick, Brandauer’s career peaked earlier than he would have liked.


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