Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1981: Klaus Maria Brandauer in Mephisto

Klaus Maria Brandauer did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hendrik Hoefgen in Mephisto.

Mephisto is an interesting character study of the career of an actor that grows along with the Nazi movement in Germany, although it is a film with a very steep decline in the quality of the characters from the main character to the next largest supporting role.

Klaus Maria Brandauer takes a most unusual stance with his performance which all begins when Hendrik Hoefgan is an actor doing his own form of revolutionary theater. The growing evil force in Germany is yet to be that prevalent and Hoefgan is allowed to be a true artist so to speak. Brandauer takes this as to be actually pretty hammy, although knowingly so. What Brandauer does here is show that since he can do whatever he wants on stage at the moment he basically carries this personality around with him no matter where he goes. Brandauer makes Hoefgen pretty much always performing because there is not a single thing he has to worry about otherwise.

Brandauer hams it up in the right way in these early scenes as Hoefgan carries on in his personal affairs the same way he does on stage. Although certainly theatrical in his style Brandauer never goes overboard because he shows it as flamboyant stage actor being a flamboyant stage actor. Hoefgan is not suppose to be untalented though, in fact he is suppose to be quite the opposite. Brandauer makes Hoefgen a bit of a Charles Laughton style figure, yes he is not exactly perfectly realistic in his style of performance but there is an energy and charisma in his rather extreme actions that makes it entirely believable why Hoefgan would grow in popularity on the stage.

Brandauer is equally believable in playing Hoefgan's personality off the stage. Brandauer is good because he does not make it as though Hoefgan only is his stage personality by any measure. Brandauer rather very effectively shows Hoefgan's behavior to be the indulgence of an artist without any holds on him. This is the most unusual stance that I was referring to at the beginning, as it is actually the beginning of the film when he is doing his revolutionary work that Brandauer makes Heofgan the least of a man. Brandauer keeps just a man of surface behavior who is so into himself that he barely even notices that some very big changes are going on around him.

Once the Nazis take over Hoefgan does not leave the country despite his communist past, the fact that his wife is a fervent Anti-Nazi, and that he has black mistress. Hoefgan decision is easily believed because of that indulgence that Brandauer has shown in the earlier scenes. Hoefgan simply demands to be seen on stage, and refuses to let anyone hold back this dream. Hoefgan does continue to perform having great success, particularly of the role of Mephisto in Faust. Hoefgan's indulgence cannot continue though as he meets the Nazi officer who oversees the stage. The Nazi officer, although impressed with his performance, is not overly impressed by Hoefgan himself.

The Nazi officer gives Hoefgan some light criticism regarding Hoefgan's handshake, this enough though for Hoefgan to lose his indulgence and start to notice the world does not revolve around him. Brandauer is effective in his depiction of the changing nature of Hoefgan. Firstly there is no longer that flamboyance off the stage as Brandauer shows the officers remarks act as almost a blunt trauma to Hoefgan that snaps him out of his world of the actor. Brandauer is rather interesting in that being forced to work around the Nazis actually seems to make Hoefgan a far more responsible man than he had been when he was allowed to perform with complete freedom.

Brandauer's performance excels as he shows Hoefgan changing his overall attitude as he brings a thoughtfulness to his performance that was not there before. Although Hoefgan basically does what the Nazis command him to do, and consistently follows the orders they give him to allow his advancement in the world of the theater, he as well does try to help others that the Nazis would otherwise have discriminated against or even killed. Brandauer is rather moving in his portrayal of a real conscience in the man as opposed to the social conscience he merely claimed to have in a very Barton Fink sort of way. Brandauer loses the presumption creating a much more honest man.

Klaus Maria Brandauer gives a very strong performance that is brilliant in his risky conception of the character of Hoefgan. It is very easy to see how the character could have been played the complete opposite with the true man being in the beginning and then losing himself in the end. Brandauer gives a far more complex and much more fascinating performance by taking the approach in which he slowly reveals a greater humanity in his character as human decency seems to fade around him. Brandauer takes a daring approach all the way through from Hendrik's rather hammy beginnings to his much more somber end, every risk he takes pays off giving a most powerful depiction of the way a man changes to be allowed to continue his craft.

15 comments:

Psifonian said...

It's certainly a very powerful performance and deserving of recognition. Brandauer needs a resurgence. I'd have loved to have seen him in something like "Inglourious Basterds." Hell, I'd love to see him team up with Werner Herzog (maybe in my fabled Herzog/Joaquin Phoenix collaboration).

Louis Morgan said...

I definitely could have seen him as either an older Hans Landa, or as Landa's father.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Old Hans Landa in Basterds 2: Natzee Zombys.

Louis Morgan said...

Or the sequel/prequel to Django Unchained, Schultz Reborn with Brandauer as Schultz's father Cäsar.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

On an unrelated note, have you seen The Place Beyond the Pines? Because I saw it back in April and it still lingers despite some MAJOR issues (like the entire third act). It has the odd distinction of having one of my favorite performances of the year (Bradley Cooper) and one of my most hated (Emory Cohen).

Matt Mustin said...

Do you consider Cooper lead or Supporting?

Louis Morgan said...

Yes I saw it. I thought it was a good film but actually too ambitious.

The first section with Gosling I thought actually was pretty complete, and I liked Gosling a lot. Yes he was basically reprising the driver mostly, but he still found some new places to go with that type of character, something I think he was not able to do in Only God Forgives.

The middle section had a good performance from Bradley Cooper, although I don't think I liked him as much as you did, but the whole thing felt rushed and not very cinematic to me. It never really delved into the corruption, and Cooper's character's descent felt very rushed.

The last section just should have been its own movie as it really tries too much too fast. Dane DeHaan was very good though. I do know what Emory Cohen was going for, the wannabe gangsta yet spoiled rich kid thing which in conception is one of the most obnoxious person imaginable, but even with that I still thought he put it on way too thick.

Matt Mustin said...

Speaking of Dane DeHaan, has anyone here seen Chronicle? He's very good in that.

Michael McCarthy said...

@Matt I was actually going to ask Louis that question as soon as I read his last comment, because I thought all three of the main actors were very good but didn't see any of them on the 2012 lists. I thought it was a great movie.

Matt Mustin said...

Michael: All three of them were very good, I agree.

Louis Morgan said...

I would put everyone supporting. If someone were to be lead it would be Cooper, but he is barely in the first third and in the last third he is supporting to DeHaan.

Louis Morgan said...

Also it will be included in this years rankings since it only had a festival release in 2012.

Michael McCarthy said...

@Louis I was referring to Chronicle, not The Place Beyond the Pines.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@ Louis: Disagree about a few things. For one, I didn't think Gosling did anything new in his performance. He was basically a rehash of the Driver and his character in Blue Valentine. Another is that I would argue Gosling, Cooper, and Dehaan are all leads. I mean, you put the guys from The Avengers as leads last year, why not these three?
I do agree that the film rushed far too much though. I would argue, however, that Cooper overcame many of the questionable decisions Cianfrance made. For example, his eventual drive for politics came out of left field. Cooper managed to adjust his performance accordingly and made the beast out of an awkward situation.

Louis Morgan said...

I felt they were all supporting because of the way the film handled their character's journeys. Each character bluntly starts and stops their personal stories, even Cooper suddenly becomes a secondary character once the film switches to the third act. The film makes them all supporting players in the broad story it is telling. Nevertheless putting them all in lead would be fine as well.