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aka - Blechtrommel, Die
Germany 1979
Directed by
Volker Schlondorff
136 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Tin Drum

Adapted from Günter Grass's novel of the same name, The Tin Drum won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film as well as Best Film at Cannes (it shared the award with Apocalypse Now). Whilst indisputedly a well-made film and Schlöndorff's biggest success to date, today without the fashionable context of "New German Cinema" of the 1970s, it is also a surprisingly empty one.

The film tells the story of Oskar (David Bennent), a boy who lives in Danzig and who at the age of 3 decides not to grow up. He is inseparable from his toy drum and if anyone tries to take it away or does anything he doesn't like, he lets out an ear-piercing scream capable of shattering glass.

The fantasy of refusing the adult world is hardly an uncommon one and with National Socialism on the rise the film provides ample justification for it. But Oskar is himself a far from sympathetic creation and we hardly see the big bad world through the eyes of childhood innocence. In fact Oskar is pulling the wool over everyone's eyes and seems to be motivated by a self-serving goblinish misanthropy rather than any morally justified refusal of human society.

Whilst the film is distinguished by quality cinematography and art direction and young Bennent does a convincing job as Oskar, Schlöndorff, who worked on the adaptation along with the author, Bunuel regular, Jean-Claude Carrière, and Franz Seitz, fails to invest his careful historical recreation with any discernible passion. Perhaps this is a function of the intellectualism of Grass's original text which admittedly is only partly represented here. The film abruptly stops with the end of the war and with Oskar's decision to grow up but we never find out what he has learnt or why he decides to join the adult world (in the novel his story goes up to the 1950s) and thus, in turn, what was Schlöndorff is trying to say about the broader human tragi-comedy.

FYI: In real life Bennent, the 11 year old son of actor Heinz Bennent who had worked with Schlöndorff on The Lost Honour of Katarina Bloom (1975), and appears here as the Nazi with the vegetable stall, suffered from a growth disorder.

DVD Extras: Banned In Oklahoma, a 52m documentary dealing the 1997 Oklahoma court banning of the film as containing child pornography and the 6 year legal battle that ensued; an informative 40m interview with Schlöndorff and the theatrical trailer.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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