The powerful and moving film adaptation of Martin Sherman’s award-winning stage play. For almost 20 years, Bent has stunned theatre audiences around the world. Now adapted for the big screen by the author himself, this inspiring tale of love over oppression has even greater power and poignancy. Set amidst the decadence of pre-war fascist Germany, Bent is an emotional tale of love, as three homosexual men fight for survival in the face of persecution.
Directed by Sean Mathias
Produced by Michael Solinger, Dixie Linder
Written by Martin Sherman (play & screenplay)
Starring Clive Owen, Lothaire Bluteau, Brian Webber, Rupert Graves, Ian McKellen, Mick Jagger, Jude Law
As you can imagine, this isn’t the easiest of watches, so don’t get it expecting a comfy watch with the popcorn. It starts with decadent scenes of the gay/bi scene in 1934 Berlin, where Max (Owen) – who is obviously a bit of a player, a deal-arranger, well known in the set, has a debauched night at Greta’s (Jagger) club where he meets a beautiful young Nazi soldier, Wolf (Nikolaj Waldau) and has sex with him, both in the club and back at his house, to the disgust of his live-in lover Rudy (Webber). Things go downhill from here and spiral into the worst possible solution.
I understand, from my researches on the piece, that the plot of the beginning of the film has been changed from the play. In the play, it’s more of a political emphasis–Max is a politician and brings members of the Sturmabteilung back to his flat, whereas in the film, he just brings the beautiful Rudy back for a good shagging, who turns out to the boyfriend of the co-founder of the Sturmabteilung, the homosexual Ernst Rohm, who was murdered by Hitler (who had up to then, been a close friend), triggering The Night of the Long Knives.
However after that, the film and play seem to coalesce, (without having seen both, this is assumption, but it seems so.)
Owen isn’t my favourite of actors, as he isn’t–in my opinion–a character actor, but he manages well in the part. He’s convincing as the decadent, self-assured Max in the pre-arrest days and in good method fashion, he loses a lot of weight for the role, as he ends up in Dachau, and chooses to pretend to be a Jew, to wear the yellow star, considering that a lesser wrong than being a queer, and to wear the pink triangle.
There’s not a badly cast role in the film, actually. Even Jagger, who I seriously didn’t recognise, and who I have never rated as an actor at all, does marvellously, and Sir Ian McKellern steals the show in his one short scene as “Uncle Freddie.” Sir Ian, incidentally, played the Max role in the original stage production in 1979, so this was a nice touch.
The most affecting scenes are those, naturally enough, between Max and Horst (played brilliantly by Lothaire Bluteau) on the way to, and within the walls of, the notorious death camp of Dachau. Even though this is set before the Second World War itself you never get any sense of hope, and that makes the restricted interractions between the two men poignant and very hard to watch. But they are well worth watching, as the scene where they do their first sex scene is heart-warming and beautiful.
The play itself, which caused outrage and acclaim when first put on, helped the exposure of the homosexual treatment by the Nazis enormously, and since then, much research has been done into their fate, leading to a greater knowledge for all, and I think, a wider acceptance and understanding.
For me, the seminal line in the play, is where Owen says “I love you. And what’s wrong with that?” It’s very obviously a challenge to the world, calling out through history, and it works as well now as it ever did.
So no, not an easy film to watch at all. But I urge you, if you haven’t seen it, to do so. In these days, twenty years on, when gays are STILL fighting for rights, for their lives, it is as relevant today as it was when it was first staged.