Movie Review By Andrea Chase
"Bent" opens with Mick Jagger in drag singing a melancholy song about the good times that are ending in Old Berlin. It's a bit of stunt casting that lends nothing to the film other than adding a name that might sell a few more tickets. Mick's fine, though he does look like an unsettling mix of Sandra Bernhard and Maggie Thatcher, but he's onscreen for less than ten minutes for all the star billing. Be warned. Be warned, too, that this is as dark and unsettling a film as you are likely to see this or any other holiday season.
The film opens during the decadent days in which Berlin wallowed when the Nazis took over. Being queer has gone from being technically illegal to fatal and Max, whose been as decadent as the best of them, has chosen to stay with his lover rather than flee to safety in Holland. They both end up on a train to Dachau.
As Max's lover is being tortured in another car, he keeps repeating to himself, "This is not real." "This cannot be real." Another prisoner clues him in on how to survive - feel nothing and disown your lover. Max does, and also proves, in an unspeakable act, that he deserves the yellow star, not the pink triangle. In this world turned upside down, it's safer to be the despised Jew than to be the despised pervert.
The violence takes place off camera, but the psychological torture inflicted by the Nazis on their victims is laid out in excruciating detail. In a bleak palette of gray, black, and blood red, we see Max change from a human being into a thing whose light of reason has been snuffed out and replaced with only a burning desire to live at any cost.
Miraculously, Max regains his humanity. He and another prisoner bond, and even engage in imaginary sex. Standing at attention, not looking at or touching each other, they talk each other to orgasm. It's not just a tender moment - it's defiance of their fate in the face of their captors.
Using excellent performances and stark photography, "Bent" doesn't equivocate. It shows hell on earth. It's intense, moving, and completely unforgettable.
© 1997 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 11/26/97
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