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movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Bent

Starring: Clive Owen, Lothaire Bluteau
Director: Sean Mathias
Rated: R
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genres: Drama, Gay/Lesbian

*Also starring: Brian Webber, Ian McKellen, Mick Jagger

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

Turning a stage play into a film is almost always a recipe for disaster. There have been the exceptions: David Mamet's adaptations of his plays such as "House of Games" and "Oleanna" come to mind. A film is a visual medium, whereas a play is an actor's, and writer's, medium. "Bent" is based on historic facts surrounding the Holocaust, but the two main characters seem to be stuck in a stage setting where they have to speak a great deal of dialogue.

Playwright Martin Sherman adapted his groundbreaking play "Bent" that focuses on a rare subject: the persecution of gays and lesbians who were the first rounded up under Hitler's regime in 1934. The main character is Max (Clive Owen), a Jewish homosexual who comes from a wealthy family. At the beginning of the film, in a wonderfully bizarre backdrop, we see Max cavorting with other homosexuals in a wild, all-night Cabaret party that includes Mick Jagger as a singing, black-stockinged transvestite on a swing! This particular night was known as the Night of the Long Knives, when homosexual Nazi commander Ernst Rohm and other bent Nazis were cleansed. The handsome Max and his lover Rudy (Brian Webber), a dancer at the club, escape and are accommodated by Max's gay uncle (Ian McKellen). Eventually, the two lovers are apprehended and taken on a horrifying train ride to Dauchau.

During this trip, Rudy is severely beaten and thrown from the train by the SS commanders. Max survives and finally arrives at Dauchau - it is there that he develops a relationship with Horst (Lothaire Bluteau) who wears the Pink Triangle. Max has to choose between wearing the Jewish Yellow Star or the Pink Triangle, a statement of gay pride - he sticks with the Yellow Star. The two end up working together in a mindless, excruciating job of moving rocks from one area to another. This is an attempt to drive them into madness and possibly suicide. "Bent" is basically an existential film about the determination to live, rather than to survive, in such a demographically undesirable environment. The problem is that the film resembles a Samuel Beckett play where the characters are stuck in one area and talk to each other endlessly. The setting is a bare area surrounded by walls and dozens of rocks, and it is the same setting for the rest of the film. The characters speak in quiet phrases (which makes sense since the SS is watching around the corner), but writer Martin Sherman and director Sean Mathias make no attempt to transcend the play's origins by making it visually arresting or compelling. And since the locations have an anonymous quality, it could therefore take place in any era, not necessarily the Holocaust.

Another flaw is the casting of Clive Owen as Max: he doesn't possess much in the way of charisma or interest, and is mostly portrayed as a cipher. The rest of the cast is splendid, but they appear in mostly fleeting cameos. Mick Jagger is bitchily perfect as Greta, the transvestite owner of the club, who resorts to betrayal, and his old business suits to escape. Ian McKellen is remarkable as the closeted Gay Uncle - his one scene speaks volumes more than anything else in the film. Lothaire Bluteau gives a touching performance as the weak, sickly Horst who begins to love Max though they can't touch each other. It would have been better if Bluteau had a more interesting co-star: how about Jagger as Max?

"Bent" is a fascinating and important story and therefore it should be seen for that reason - I would have preferred, however, to see the unique play since it works better on the stage than on film. The end result is that "Bent" trivializes the Holocaust and, although, there are some superb visual pieces, including the Cabaret club, there's precious else to hold one's interest. An explosive ending made me wish that what preceded it was just as potent.

Copyright 1997 Jerry Saravia

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