Genre: Historical Drama • Biography
Director: István Szabó
Starring: Klaus Maria Brandauer, Hans Christian Blech, Gudrun Landgrebe, Jan Niklas
Duration: 144 min.
The rise and fall of Alfred Redl, an ambitious young officer who proceeds up the ladder to become head of the Austro-Hungarian Secret Police, only to become ensnared in a web of political deception.
Colonel Redl is a film by Hungarian director István Szabó, based on the John Osborne play A Patriot for Me. It was awarded the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1985. It is the second of three German language films directed by Szabó and starring Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer. After 1981's Academy Award winning Mephisto, and followed by 1988's Hanussen.
Szabó returns to the formula that made Mephisto a success and improves on it, delivering a stunning historical piece with the amazing Brandauer in the lead role. This one is set in the years preceding The Great War, where the glory of the Austro-Hungarian empire is in decline. Brandauer plays Alfred Redl, a young officer from a poor upbringing who quickly rises the ranks to become head of the secret police. Once again it is Brandauer's charismatic presence and dramatic range that carries the film. This is a performance to be watched in awe, from every subtle and silent glance to every thundering and passionate outburst. His final scene in the film is one of the most emotional powerful displays of acting ever filmed.
The costumes and set design were also very well done, providing an accurate portrayal of the look and feel of the era. In particular the wonderful looking and perfectly detailed military uniforms. Even though the cinematography looks better than in Mephisto, employing a wider range of shots and angles, I'm still not a big fan of the hazy and washed out look that Szabó prefers to use.
What prevents this from being a true masterpiece is the film's screenplay and editing. The narrative is torn between being a historical epic and the story of Redl the man, and suffers as a whole because neither one is fully developed. Brandauer no doubt does the best with what he is given, but all throughout the film we are only shown brief glimpses of these defining moments in his life before the scene is hurried along. Also, it's hinted at but we don't get a real sense of the volatile state of the empire, so the actions and events of political intrigue and deception feel disconnected.
Still this is a very good film with a fascinating story of a true historical figure, even if the facts and details are made up; and highly recommended for another brilliant performance from Klaus Maria Brandauer, one of the most underrated actors of his generation.
— Bonjour Tristesse