Monday, July 03, 2006

Young Törless

1966, West Germany, directed by Volker Schlöndorff (original title: Der Junge Törless)

Although it's the film that launched the New German Cinema as a critical movement, Young Törless paradoxically has its deepest roots in French cinema; that owes much to director Volker Schlöndorff's cinematic education on the other side of the Rhine (he studied in Paris and worked on films by Resnais and Malle). The scenes of philosophical discussion are the stuff of many a Parisian drama, although in the context of a story of systematic and disinterested bullying in a conservative Austrian boys' school, there's an unavoidable and immediate reference point in recent German history. While the Third Reich hangs over the film, it doesn't obscure the acute dissection of the social order in schools the world over, and the toxic behaviour therein. As the film progresses, the action takes a back seat to lengthy musings on the reasons behind the bullying, discussions that sometimes seem beyond the years of the boys in question. The philosophizing is open-ended enough that it's hard to decipher whether Schlöndorff is making a brave (in 1966) point about the ability of even the mild-mannered to behave in aberrant ways given the right circumstances, or a rather more controversial point (to say the least) about the abject victims of bullying bringing it on themselves; either way, there's no escaping the power of the latter scenes, in which Törless tries to explain his own reasons for participation in the film's key events, and which compel the viewer to examine how he or she would behave in the same situations.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States