|Mathieu Carrière plays Torless in Schlondorff's 1966 film.|
Young Törless (1966)
d. Volker Schlöndorff
Criterion Collection #279
I gave this movie review a book review "time slot" (Thursday 5:30 AM) for two reasons. First, I'm not done with the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Second, The Confusions of Young Torless is ALSO a title from the 1001 Books collection of Novels, and I've previously reviewed the book, on May 22nd of 2012.
Young Törless is an enduring classic for reasons beyond the execution of the film itself. Volker Schlöndorff is a lesser known (compared to Werner Herzog and Fassbinder) figure in the world of New German Cinema, but I believe an argument can be made (and is made by the film maker himself in the 20 minute feature that accompanies the streaming version on Hulu Plus.) Schlöndorff actually went to school in France and worked in the French film industry as a second director/assistant director. According to his own words, he was motivated to return to Germany and introduce some of the energy created by the French New Wave to German Cinema. The result of this was New German Cinema, though Schlondorff admits that upon his arrival/return to the German film industry Werner Herzog was already there, though only a director of "short documentaries."
Besides the seminal role Young Torless plays in New German Film, there is Schlondorff's awareness of the horrors of Nazi Germany, and his attempt to make a German language film which addresses that horror. Although the book was written well in advance of World War I, let alone World War II, it clearly shares some foreshadowing of certain aesthetic aspects of Nazi rule, particularly the gleeful, sadistic perpetration of violence on the bodies of the excluded.
In Törless, the young thief Basini is subjected to all sorts of physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of Beineburg and Reitling, while Torless passively watches from the sidelines. Schlondorff draws a clear line between the passivity of European intellectuals during the rise of Nazism and the passivity of Törless in the face of such gross, deplorable abuse.
The relationship of the main characters of Torless to sex and sexuality is a topic for another blog post, but clearly tracks with the repressed homosexual overtones familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of English "Public" (private) school life in the same time period. Musil's frank depiction of this abuse is simply without peer in contemporary English literary culture.
Finally, there is the increased importance of the author of the source material, Robert Musil. His "big novel" the uncompleted the Man Without Qualities, has experienced a revival within this decade. This revival was no doubt spurred by the 1996 reissue of the novel with a new translation by Sophie Wilkins and a "textual overall" of the uncompleted work.
If you look at a Google Ngram of "Robert Musil" in English language books, you can see a steep ascent, but not until 1960. Musil suffered through a half century of English language obscurity, but when Scholodorff made his version of Young Torless Musil was in the midst of his first dramatic uptake in the English language. Other then a brief decline in the first part of the 70s, Musil has been gaining in popularity ever since his initial cultural break out at the beginning of the 60s.