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"tin drum" (1979) - volker schlöndorff
posted on 4-Mar-2002 by anton

"the tin drum" directed by volker schlöndorff won the academy award for best foreign film and shared the grand prize at the cannes film festival with "apocalypse now" in 1979. unfortunately it never enjoyed the fame of "apocalypse now"; only now, after he was awarded nobel prize in literature, günter grass is getting more and more attention.

I was quite skeptical of the director's effort to translate this exuberant and phantasmagoric tale with tangled plot and unique characters into a different media. after all only a few movies lived up to the books.

at first everything seemed to confirm my fears. obviously, anyone used to modern attention to details when it comes to scenes requiring special effects would notice awkward filmmaking and acting in those episodes - little oskar breaking glass, falling down the cellar, matzerath getting killed by Russians - all those could be a lot more powerful, if they were to be filmed nowadays.

somehow this feeling goes away quickly enough as the film goes on. the plot seems to be a little sketchy after reading the book, but apparently gunter grass himself blessed significant "streamlining" of the story (nothing about oskar's two main literary influences, nothing about his life after leaving danzig, which is almost half of the book, nothing about his attempt to become jesus and many more). it is not just the factual omissions, but also many little details that seemed to simplify the story - oskar's intentional murders of people close to him, for once.

as you watch the movie, you realize how much the director understands the book and presents his own vision, adding elements that were not in the original book and only possible in the visual interpretation of the story. I think this is the main reason I enjoyed it so much - being able to see his creativity and insight merging with the vision of the writer. granted, a lot of the story has been left out, but I realize it would have been impossible to recreate all the nuances of rich allegoric narrative. what the movie offers us is a very moving and powerful rendition of the ideas that seemed most important for that part of the book.

watching the characters only hinted in the movie, while they occupied chapters and chapters in the book, one realizes that a book has to be a required companion for the movie, the latter becomes too cryptic or appears too shallow without the book.

I was most impressed with the fact that most striking episodes of the book were present in the movie - fizz powder scenes (the one that got the film banned in oklahoma), the eel fishing scene (it was in my mind for days after reading it), the soup that kids "cooked" for oskar, the jesus drummer (the impotence of vatican (pardon the word play) when it came to nazis, or oskar's renunciation of any control in his life?). I was glad to see that sardonic humor of gunter grass made it into the movie, often enhanced by excellent cinematography; same goes for his wonderful mix of absurdity and brutal realism. one should not forget that gunter grass was active in political scene for years, writing essays and speeches, thus offering a keen sociological and political insight in his work.

12 year old david benneth that played 3 year old oskar did the most amazing job; his big intense eyes had all the fury and coldness you would expect from oskar. quite an unsettling portrayal, once you realize all the perversions and emotions happening inside this body of an innocent child.

speaking of the actors, I was surprised to recognize charles aznavour, the french singer (appeared in françois truffaut's "shoot the piano player") as a jewish shopkeeper.

the novel was written in 1959 with the film made twenty years later, and still it has so much power over the minds of the viewers and readers.

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