Mephisto delves deeply into the actor as cultural pawn or as a symbol of the theatrical totalitarianism that Nazism was. Hungaro pic shows extraordinary period flair for the Germany of the 1920s and ’30s, balanced acting by a multinational cast, and exemplary direction.
Based loosely on Klaus Mann’s book (in turn based on a real actor), film details a provincial actor’s climb to fame before and during the Nazi period. Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer is extraordinary as this flamboyant actor who uses women and marries the daughter of a noted pre-Nazi figure.
When the Nazis come to power, his wife leaves but he stays. He eventually becomes head of the National Theatre where he begins to subvert classic figures to Nazi outlooks, especially the Mephisto of Goethe’s Faust, played romantically.
The sadistic Culture Minister who aided his meteoric rise takes him to the 1936 Olympic stadium, after the actor marries a popular actress, and makes him run around with spotlights trained on him. It is a brilliant dramatic ephiphany of the corruption of power, the unwitting collaboration due to ambition and survival rather than moral choice.
1981: Best Foreign Language Film