Der Fangschuß | Coup de grâce
DIRECTOR: Volker Schlöndorff | WRITERS: Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta, Jutta Brückner | CAST: Matthias Habich, Margarethe von Trotta, Rüdiger Kirschstein, Marc Eyraud, Bruno Thost, Henry van Lyck, Hannes Kaetner, Franz Morak, Frederik von Zichy, Mathieu Carrière, Valeska Gert | Germany
Volker Schlöndorff’s decision to shoot Der Fangschuß in black and white was inevitable given the material, but some of the images he and his cinematographer captured are also extraordinarily beautiful in their own right. Set in Latvia in 1919, the film concerns a detachment of German soldiers who are stationed in a château from which they battle against the Bolsheviks during the Civil War following the Russian Revolution. The château belongs to one of the soldiers and his sister Sophie, and it is her unrequited love for a childhood friend, now a German officer stationed at her home and her brother’s closest friend, that sets the plot rolling. The German officer, Erich, a tightly repressed and coldly conservative type, deflects Sophie’s advances for reasons she doesn’t understand (but which no one in the audience could possibly fail to understand), and he watches with mounting irritation and anger as Sophie brazenly consorts with others among the Germans stationed in her home.
Margarethe von Trotta, who also co-wrote the screenplay, is quite good as the passionate countess with decidedly leftist political leanings, but there is something too 1970s about the way she looks and moves to convince me that she’s a leftover German countess stuck in Latvia in 1919. Most of the acting is good; Matthias Habich’s performance as Erich is quite impressive. And then there’s 900 year old Valeska Gert who works hard as the aged and eccentric aunt Praskovia; it is to her credit that her performance is not a dismissible freak show. Schlöndorff handles the ending of the film better than the source material — a novel by the over-rated Marguerite Yourcenar — deserved so at least it doesn’t feel like a cheap contrivance.