Blu-ray Review: Mephisto

STUDIO: Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: István Szabó | CAST: Klaus Maria Brandauer, Krystyna Janda, Rolf Hoppe, Peter Andorai, Ildikó Bánsági
RELEASE DATE: July 21, 2020 | PRICE: DVD $13.99, Blu-ray $19.99
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes, remembrance by production designer
SPECS: NR | 144 min. | Foreign language drama | 1.66:1 | DTS Stereo | German or Hungarian with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

The 1981 Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film, my only knowledge of Mephisto before dipping into it for the first time last week was a memory of the passionate embrace enjoyed by the film’s director, Hungary’s István Szabó, and its star, Klaus Maria Brandauer, when it won the Oscar nearly 40 years ago. (You can still see it on YouTube.)

Mephisto puts a modern spin on the Faust legend by making its central character an intense German stage actor in late-Thirties Berlin (Brandauer) who finds unexpected success among the Nazis when he portrays Mephistopheles in an adaption of Goethe’s Faust. His performance is so embraced and admired by the Party that they elevate his career and put him in charge of the national theatre. Reveling in his popularity and rising social position, “Mephisto” abandons his conscience and turns his back on the cultural restrictions, moral compromises and sheer brutality of his Nazi patrons. By the final act, his Mephisto’s soul and very life have become compromised in ways he never could have imagined.

Based on the book by Klaus Mann and modeled after German actor Gustaf Gründgens (whose collaborative relationship with the Nazis continues to be disputed), Mephisto makes for two hours of rich, engaging European cinema—its outstanding story, fine acting and superlative production values and period detail answering the question of how a savage Fascist regime could seem appealing to a hungry, glory-seeking actor.

I was familiar with Szabó and Brandauer from some of their post-Oscar English-language work (particularly Brandaeur in 1985’s Out of Africa and the Connery-starring Bond reboot Never Say Never Again from 1983), but Mephisto is the one to catch—or to revisit if you already have.

Kino Lorber has also just released Szabó and Brandauer’s two other European collaborations, 1985’s Colonel Redl and 1988’s Hanussen, both of which earned Oscar nominations.

Buy or Rent Mephisto

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.