The German New Wave, and its newfound capabilities for dealing with the mass-think demons of German consciousness past, present and future, more or less began with this 1966 Volker Schlondorff haunter, the first German film to ever win a prize at Cannes. Adapted from the 1906 novel by Robert Musil and shot in era-evocative black-&-white, the film chronicles the ethical ordeal of an aloof but compliant teen (Mathieu Carriere) at an Austro-Hungarian military boarding school, as a pair of his cohorts embark on the systematic blackmailing and torture of a fellow classmate. Deftly enough, Schlondorff never has to emphasize what becomes chillingly apparent to the eye: the culture’s propensity for ideological sadism, crowd-madness and cold-blooded complacency. The reedy, saddened Carriere catches in your memory like a burr, but the film hinges on Marian Seidowsky’s porcine victim, deliberately recalling the Peter Lorre of M and demonstrating the sufferer’s numb acquiesence. Musil’s was a forgotten book, and Schlondorff’s movie kicked up a storm in Germany by resurrecting it and confirming its thesis that fascism was a national instinct predating the Third Reich. Criterion’s supps include a new interview with Schlondorff and an isolated audio suite of Hans Werner Henze’s moody score.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 8, 2005