›› Bent ‹‹

a film by Sean Mathias.

1997 | 105 mins | UK.

a powerful depiction of the resilience of the human spirit.

Dave says:

Reworked for the screen by Martin Sherman from his award-winning play, the result is a film that whilst as heart-wrenching as the stage play, has perhaps lost something in its cinematic adaptation.

Beginning in flashback, we witness debonair hedonist Max (Clive Owen) enjoying to the full the pleasures of pre-war Berlin; one where just about anything went - and did. Until that is the infamous Night of the Long Knives, one that finds him running for his life, alongside his lover Rudy (Brian Webber). Begging for help from reluctant relatives such as Uncle Freddie (Ian McKellen), they are instead forced to seek shelter in the woods, only for the Dobermanns to deliver them into the hands of the SS and a detention camp thereafter that Rudy would never see.

Well aware that he stands a better chance of survival as a Jew, rather than a homosexual, Max all too eagerly casts aside the pink triangle, in favour of the yellow star. Yet even under the most extreme regime of cruelty, love can find a way. Such is that which Max finds with fellow prisoner Horst (Lothaire Bluteau); namely a man who wears his pink label with pride. Forbidden to touch, speak or even look at each other, their emotional, against physical relationship provides them with the will to live. Only for how long can it last when faced with such despicable acts of savagery?

As is obvious, this emotional work details an abhorrent chapter of human history; that of the persecution of thousands of homosexuals during World War II. Yet in adapting his play for the screen, something, somewhere has been lost. But what that is somehow isn't clear. What is apparent is that by moving the detention camp act far earlier on in its film outing, the celluloid version is in effect, largely set within a prison environment. Thus what little light relief there is falls into the opening reel, given the majority of the feature, like that of Schindler's List, is but a deeply poignant testament to the horrors of man's inhumanity to his own kind.

That said and as expected, both Bluteau and Owen give everything that the script requires and more, in a film that greatly benefits from the fine support work of Brian Webber as lover boy Rudy, Ian McKellen as gay uncle Freddie / Max in the original London production of 1979 and in an inspired choice of casting, Mick Jagger as the vibrant transvestite chanteuse Greta; aka George. Keen-eyed viewers however may also spot cameos from the likes of Rupert Graves, Jude Law and Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, to name but three.

That both the powerful stage play and the film speak volumes on the resilience of the human spirit, even in the bleakest of oppressive circumstances, goes without saying. Yet in graphically detailing how homosexuals, considered the lowest of the low by the Nazis, ranking below Jews, were treated during the Holocaust, the bitter irony remains that those who survived the brutality of life under the Third Reich would discover upon their release, that they had been imprisoned for an act of love that was still deemed a criminal offence in most countries of liberated Europe. Far from an easy watch by any means, but then, it should never be. Essential viewing, nonetheless.

›› available as part of the PARK CIRCUS catalogue: 13th September, 2010 / UK.
›› revised: Monday, 15th May, 2023.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - the full monty | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

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