Klaus Maria Brandauer did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Klaus Schneider aka Erik Jan Hanussen in Hanussen.
Well I interrupt our predetermined lineup of reviews to come to Klaus Maria Brandauer during his brief period as a leading man and international star. As with one of his other notable leading turn as a real life figure in Mephisto, Brandauer once again plays a role whose fate is intertwined with the Nazi movement in Germany. As with that earlier performance Brandauer's approach is innately fascinating in itself. Now in the early scenes of the film Brandauer's work is fairly unassuming in presenting just a man first in agony of his head wound from a gunshot, then going through a difficult recovery. We are granted this time with Klaus Schneider which Brandauer uses well to establish a pivotal initial understanding to the man before he becomes the titular figure for the film. Brandauer's work is properly modest here as we see him with the other veterans dealing with their suffering and Brandauer is moving in effectively depicting the somber state of this man. This all changes though when one of the particularly damaged men threatens the hospital with a grenade leading to Hanussen coming out.
The first time we meet Hanussen is a downright brilliant scene for Brandauer's performance, though there are many more to come, this one is distinctive in the way Brandauer approaches this first instance of his abilities. In the scene Klaus calls upon his apparent mental sway to calm the suicidal man, and prevent him from setting off the grenade. Brandauer in this moment brings this sudden power just in his gaze and in his delivery carries such an authority with every word, yet in this instance there is a desperation to the moment. Brandauer doesn't portray as an intentional use of some control, but rather the instinct of the man to try to handle the situation and save everyone in the room himself included. The power is realized yet in this moment Brandauer portrays it as brought on by the emotions of that horrible situation. This is Klaus Schneider using the power he'd be known for but before he realized he even had it. This leads Schneider to examine his position, and Brandauer portrays this as bringing a growth in the confidence in the man that leads to a fuller recovery from his war injuries. In this we are granted with the first sight of his ego which, as proven earlier with Mephisto, Brandauer is a master at a realization of this.
That ego is a major facet of his performance here, and he carefully uses this within his performance throughout. At the hospital the man's ego initially grows through the interest of his doctor who sees his power or at least talent, and even through a nurse who has an affair with him. Brandauer shows the way Schneider takes on these praises and encouragement with a certain thrill that provides with it a most definite joy. Brandauer shows this build the man up to so much more than he had been but this only grows as he changes his name to become Jan Hanussen. This is where his performance becomes particularly fascinating in how Brandauer works in discovering the character for himself. It would be simple enough just to create the megalomaniac but that isn't what Brandauer does with his performance. Instead even as we see Hanussen build up as this creation there is always a sense of Schneider in a certain way that is a central facet to Brandauer's work. There is no simplification as Brandauer presents the various faces of the man which are all compelling in their own right and what is truly remarkable is in the way Brandauer weaves them as one in this strange tapestry of a man.
In private quarters, though in company, Brandauer gives us some of Schneider still but with the confidence of Hanussen drawn within that. Brandauer in his moments with his old doctor and his girlfriend does offer a genuine decency at times. Although again that confidence is of Hanussen in a way, and Brandauer delivers all of these scenes with an inherent distance of the man with this power against those who do not have it. He projects a bit of an enigma, but he allows enough of an honest human being there as well. Brandauer carefully shows the man still is willing to connect, and there are moments of just some real warmth he provides in showing the man still needing normal friendships however they are a secondary goal in the end. The focus of the film is Hanussen, though this is most often as the mentalist performer. It is here where Brandauer is absolutely outstanding in every single scene as this larger than life figure. What he does is so incredible in every instance. Brandauer projects such an extreme and overpowering charisma in these scenes. Every part of it from his ease in delivery yet with such a commanding voice to his physical performance that is so essential in crafting the manner of a mystic who is otherworldly, and wholly in control.
It is enough of an achievement for Brandauer to do as I have already stated, but even here he goes further in the exact way he handles every single one of these scenes. In all of them there is this overpowering charisma yet he handles this in a different way depending on the situation. In many instances we are granted just the pure showman and in these scenes Brandauer is very entertaining with a more overt approach to a man somewhat playing up the mystic act since it is indeed an act. This is different though in a scene where Hanussen takes on a would be heckler. Again Brandauer commands the screen much as Hanussen commands the man's mind. In this time though there is a vindictive force to his pull as he so effectively presents the way Hanussen incisively breaks the man down before calmly dismissing him. My favorite single Hanussen scene though is when he is put on trial for charlatanism. Brandauer at first begins more grounded as he answers the questions of the prosecutor and the judge explaining his act as interest in humans. In this moment Brandauer reveals this quiet yet rather intense passion that holds this as truth to what inspires the man. Still by the nature of the court Brandauer shows Hanussen playing with them a bit, and Brandauer is rather enjoyable to watch in presenting so well the man treating the trial as a bit of a game. When pressed further though he switches to the full power of Hanussen in a way, and Brandauer is mesmerizing to watch pull out essentially that power of the man's sheer will. The whole court rises when he commands them to, and Brandauer makes this seem a natural act.
There is yet the final layer to Brandauer's performance and the man that is Hanussen. This is the most internalized part and an essential facet to this portrayal since it keeps him grounded to a certain extent alluding to the wounded war veteran we met at the beginning of the film. This facet is an extremely subtle part of Brandauer's performance in that it is mostly silent and comes into play with Hanussen's perhaps greatest ability which is to see in the future. Now when he acts as the clairvoyant there is that degree of showmanship, but what I speak to is what Brandauer does when he sees that his predictions have come true. Brandauer is amazing in bringing back a vulnerability to the man and in a way rationalizing the entire story. Brandauer, even though this is where Hanussen's powers are most proven to be true, Brandauer portrays in his eyes and whole body language this loss of ego and definite fear from Hanussen seeing his power as real. In this Brandauer realizes this sense of doubt within the man that should seem a contradiction yet Brandauer's performance is so astute it instead offers a greater insight into the man. Brandauer finds the man struggling with himself and not only whether his abilities or real, but also if really wants them to be. We see this side of the man continue as Hitler appropriates Hanussen's methods for his own ends, and in these reactions off unease there is that scared man just trying to get by again. This unease eventually leads him to take action which quickly leads him to be taken out by a group of Nazi soldiers to be executed. The final scene is another astonishing scene for Brandauer as he briefly begins with Hanussen attempting to play the master of the mind to get out of this, however the men's gun's quickly break this act. Brandauer then proceeds to be harrowing by depicting the breaking man's ego as he is taunted by the men before being killed himself. There is yet one final moment of his power, which is brilliantly portrayed, as Brandauer offers the foresight once again without the ego, and it is devastating as predicts the demise of the Nazis in one of his final breaths. This is a downright masterful portrait by Klaus Maria Brandauer as he not only becomes that otherworldly figure, but he manages to poignantly humanizes this man at the same time.