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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Movie's The Thing..., December 7, 2003
This review is from: Bent (DVD)
When I first started reading film criticism, while still in my teens, I remember being, at first, surprised that and then understanding of why many critics were wary of films adapted from stage plays. At first blush, film seems to be a logical extension of the stage, but then when you take into account the unique aspects of both genres, you realize that they are, in many ways, worlds apart. Despite the cinema's (ever increasing) ability to create astonishing special effects, it is the more naturalistic of the two genres. A scene that takes place in the great outdoors can be shot in the great outdoors. With the camera focusing in for close-ups, actors don't have to rely on grand gestures or declamatory oration to convey their meaning.
The standard term among movie makers and their critics for the changes that have to be made to successfully adapt a stage play to the cinema is "opening it up." You have to get it off the stage and into the world. Sometimes it works, and sometimes they fall flat. But the cinematic beast is hungry for narrative and stage plays (along with novels, short stories, lesser known foreign films, and nowadays old comic strips and TV shows) continue to provide it fodder.
Everything I knew about the play BENT did not make it seem promising for film adaptation. I was wrong. Although I've never seen the stage version, one can almost envision it from watching the film. One can also pretty much guess what changes have been made, where things have been embellished and what cinematic tricks have been thrown in to spice things us. So that makes it pretty transparent, right? And therefore not such a great film.
Well, yes and no. The film doesn't achieve actual greatness, I suppose. But even though it's a bit stagey, perhaps, in some ways, it compensates brilliantly for it in other ways. First off, the cinematography is brilliant and no doubt brings a quite different perspective to the drama. The acting is also top notch. I had never seen Clive Owen in anything before--although judging from the reviews posted here, he has quite a fan base. Deservedly so, I'd say based on his performance he turns in here. His character, Max, makes the transition from callow sensualist to self-sacrificing hero believably--and in relatively few scenes. Equally good is French-Canadian actor, Lothaire Bluteau, as Horst, Max's soul-mate and (platonic?) lover. The scene in which they "make love" without touching is quietly powerful--and emblematic of the differences between the cinema and the stage discussed above. Here the actors work with close-ups and with their voices, they cannot gesture because they're being watched. Whatever the stage actors did in the equivalent scene had to be different--even if it was just as effective. They were denied the close-ups that these two actors take great advantage of.
The true test of a film's power is whether or not you'll be thinking about it the next day, or the next week. BENT passes that test hands down. It stays with you--and likely will for a long time.
(PS--Just to follow up on a review posted below. One reviewer didn't understand the relevance of the scene in the park with Ian McKellan. I can understand the confusion, as the sound seemed unnecessarily muffled at this point in the film. It is a bit sketchy, but it's fairly clear McKellan's character is Max's uncle, who while also gay, is closeted and, unlike Max himself, not estranged from their (apparently wealthy) family. He offers Max forged papers, which the family has been able to obtain for him to facilitate his escape from Germany. Max is,however, adamant that they also obtain papers for his lover as well, an early signal that he is not just the callow and selfish hedonist he seemed to be in the film's opening scenes--which makes his ultimate transformation by the film's end all the more plausible.)
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