Saturday, August 4, 2012

The German Title Starts with "Blech"

Film: Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I want you to think of all of the films you have seen in your life. Think of all of the children that appear in those films. Of all of those children, I want you to think of the most hateful and awful children you can. If you are not thinking of Oskar Matzerath (David Bennent) in Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), the reason is that you’ve never seen Die Blechtrommel. Seriously, this kid makes the white-haired evil space children from Village of the Damned look like a kindergarten. Oskar makes Damien look like a kid you’d have over to tea.

Sadly, this film centers on Oskar as the main character, and we’re tied to this hateful little bastard for more than 140 minutes. We learn initially of Oskar’s lineage, which starts when his grandmother (Tina Engel at this point, Berta Drews later on) hides a man escaping from the police under her voluminous skirts. Naturally in this situation, the man’s reaction is to have sex with her while the cops are walking past. This results in Agnes (Angela Winkler), who becomes Oskar’s mother. Oskar’s father is either Jan Bronski (Daniel Olbrychski), who happens to be Agnes’s cousin, or Alfred Matzerath (Mario Adorf), her husband. She’s sleeping with both men, though, so it doesn’t really matter.

What’s important is that Oskar is born with essentially adult intelligence. When he is three, he makes the conscious decision to stop growing and thus remain forever a child. He takes advantage of Alfred leaving the cellar door open and he tumbles down, giving him an excuse for remaining a child. He also gets a red and white tin drum as a gift (and don’t worry—you’ll hear lots of this drum), which he pounds on continuously. We also learn that if anyone takes his drum away or does anything he doesn’t like, he can scream so piercingly that glass around him shatters. So, aside from voice over, about half of Oskar’s contribution to this film is slamming on his drum and shrieking.

The film takes place in the years leading up to and through World War II. Since the film also takes place in Danzig, it means we’re in a politically interesting time and place. Danzig was a free city before the war—not quite a part of Germany and not quite Poland. This means there’s a shit-ton of Nazi sentiment as well as quite a few Poles, considered “untermenschen” by the Germans. And, naturally, Alfred Matzerath is a pro-fascist German while Jan Bronski is a Pole, and quite possibly a Jew.

Anyway, Agnes eventually goes crazy and dies from eating raw fish. Jan is killed during the invasion of Danzig by the German soldiers. And Oskar, who is now a 16-year-old in the body of a child falls in love with his new nanny, Maria (Katharina Thalbach). I’m just going to say this about that—while Alfred eventually marries her, she bears Oskar’s child. Think about that for a second. Roll that around in your brain. Perhaps the most awful, disturbing thing I have seen on film in more than a year is the scene in which the 16-year-old in the child’s body Oskar buries his face in Maria’s crotch. Ick. Just…ick.

And with that, I’m pretty much done. There’s about 40 minutes of film after this awful, awful moment, but I’m done describing the plot of this film. The last time I was this tempted to just turn something off and walk away from it for good was when I was watching Salo more than two years ago. This was repugnant, repellent, and nasty.

I realize that on many levels the author (Gunter Grass) of the original book upon which this was based was writing about the rise of fascism in Germany and elsewhere. I get that on an intellectual level, and I understand that this is an important topic. Films like Haneke’s Das Weisse Band offer a similar story and with similarly hateful children. But Die Blechtrommel borders on the pornographic at times despite having no nudity.

I honestly don’t know what else to say. That this film has great critical acclaim can only be explained in a few ways. It’s entirely possible that I have no idea what I’m talking about, and this film is truly a masterpiece. It’s also entirely possible that a bunch of critics got together to push this over on the rest of us and claim its importance. I don’t know. All I know is that it was something terrible to me and that I don’t ever want to see it again.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I don’t pull out the f-bomb very often, but there are times when I am moved to do so, and almost always regarding something that I find really detestable. So, if you’re sensitive, cover your eyes. I hate this fucking film. I hate this fucking kid. I hate his screaming, his fucking drum, and the idea that filming a sex scene between a physical child and a grown woman is something that somehow made it onto celluloid. I don’t offend easily and I’ve never been a prude, but this is fucking disgusting. It’s made no better by the fact that David Bennent was 11 at the time of this filming and Katharina Thalbach was 24. Just…no. Fuck you, movie, and Volker Schlondorff, and Gunter Grass, and everybody else. I want to rub bleach on my eye sockets and brain.

Fuck it. I’m done with this film.

Why to watch Die Blechtrommel: Only because you have to for list completion.
Why not to watch: It’s hateful.


  1. Ohhhhhhh my... Steve did NOT like this one! I certainly agree that this wasn't a pleasant film experience for me, but I don't think I was as turned off as you. Grotesquely fascinated, perhaps. I remember it being very weird. That kd was weird.

    Regardless, I like your review.

    1. There have only been a few times my dislike of a film has been this violent. So far, it's about once a year. The last time was Last Year at Marienbad.

    2. Oh, Last Year at Marienbad. Have you ever seen Eddie Izzard's 'Dressed to Kill?'. In it, he makes a joke about stuffy dramas having characters who are arranging matches. I always think of Marienbad when he says that.

    3. "I'm arranging matches, Sebastian."

      Marienbad was the film that turned this blog from PG-13 into R-ratings territory. My reaction to that film was both visceral and violent.

  2. Well, I don't think it's a masterpiece, but I did find it more palatable than you. It was entertaining (sans that nasty scene your described above) in a strange way. I, however, fully agree about how detestable Salo was.

    1. Salo is one of those films that I think is impossible to actually like. I can sort of see respecting it, but liking it? The idea terrifies me.

  3. Horrible movie. I see we are on the same page here. If only it had the redeeming element of s point, but I did not see any.

    1. It's clearly an alegory for the rise of fascism, but there are better ways to do that.