[Last Film I Saw] The Tin Drum (1979)

The Tin Drum poster

English Title: The Tin Drum
Original Title: Die Blechtrommel
Year: 1979
Country: West Germany, France
Language: Hebrew, Italian, German
Genre: Drama, War
Director: Volker Schlöndorff
Jean-Claude Carrière
Volker Schlöndorff
Günter Grass
Franz Seitz
David Bennent
Angela Winkler
Mario Adorf
Daniel Olbrychski
Katharina Thalbach
Fritz Hakl
Berta Drews
Charles Aznavour
Ilse Pagé
Roland Teubner
Tina Engel
Mariella Oliveri
Andréa Ferréol
Heinz Benennt
Wojciech Pszoniak
Rating: 7.7/10

The Tin Drum

Books incorporated with eccentric characters and theatrical events are destined to be transcribed onto the big screen, so internationally renowned (Poland-born) German writer Günter Grass’ excellent epic novel expands around 20 years charting a boy Oscar’s rite-of-passage dirge, who refuses to grow up at the age of 3 and remains in his diminutive figure in Danzig during last century’s abhorrent wartime. Directed by reverend German director Volker Schlöndorff, the film fairly does justice to its namesake novel, and conflates the tumultuous vagaries of peoples’ mindset (German vs. Pole) refracting from Oscar’s eyes and the familial turmoil inflicts on Oscar’s own psyche with unstrained imagination, cinematic impact and metaphorical embodiment.

From the over-pressing opening drumbeats, the tale unwinds itself in its outlandish and surreal fashion with a chirpy tone, the delivery of Oscar is seen through a grotesque view from the infant baby inside the womb, reluctantly to set foot on this world until her mother promises give him a tin drum when he will be 3, then the morally-challenging ménage à trois of the family sickens little Oscar and he arbitrarily decides to stop growing at his 3-year-old birthday (not a potent prerequisite for the blunt decision, but it is requisite for the spurs to propel the story going into its right direction). With his glass-breaking screaming superpower and the tin drum he carries all the time, it bespeaks Oscar’s official entry into a rebellious, warped world traumatised by the venomous war and moral forfeiture.

The abnormal two-fathers with one-mother structure has been arduously recorded, but without conspicuously verbal elaboration (even it equivocates who is Oscar’s biological father), the nativity of Oscar itself stands for a kind of incestuous madness which scourges both his mother and Polish uncle, there are many self-aware sequences when the three adults balancing a harmonious co-existence in the same space while smutty fondling needs no camouflage, it is not a sexual suppression case, it is a perverted mentality which is powerful enough to engender self-destruction.

Oscar is the on-looker here and compulsorily poisoned by it, the trumpet strain during his mother and uncle’s tryst (while Oscar is the indirect voyeur) and the subsequent outbreak of his super-scream and church profanity highlights the abnormality has deeply-rooted in his mind, when he reaches puberty, his sexual aggression outstretches his child-like appearance, the domestic fornication has its detrimental sequel, it is heavy fodder to be adapted on big screen, thanks for child actor David Bennent’s fully commitment (although it seems not so healthy for a child to forbear all the precocious physical endeavour), the film’s success is greatly indebted of the cast, Bennent’s child-midget hybrid mien suffices the age-range required of his character (the soda-power ecstasy scenes are both gross and erotic), a nonpareil child-performance leaves its mark in the textbook, sometimes the cruelties and inscrutability appositely exude from his doe-eyes and innocent face, which is as fierce as any malevolence could achieve.

Adult actors, namely Angela Winkler (mother), Mario Adorf (father) and Daniel Olbrychski (uncle), Katharina Thalbach (as the second wife and Oscar’s first love) and Berta Drews (the square skirted grandmother) are all well-chosen and convincingly adept in their respective roles, French composer Charles Aznavour has a minor role as the Jewish toy shop owner, the stout provider of Oscar’s tin drums.

Running against 142 minutes, the film sustains its momentum along its journey, there are plentiful interpretations of all the characters’ connotations correlating the milieu in lieu of Grass’ delicate autobiographical delineation. Tragedies aside, the comic relief is the sporadic humour, for example, the interruption of the Nazi ceremony with the drum beats and waltz is sublime and ridicule, also when Oscar’s Italian girlfriend-of-the-same-size wanted her morning coffee during a dashed-off fleeing, one could anticipate what will ensue but the benign mockery eclipses the grim emotion arc here and in a tall-tale like this, a sense of humour is alway being appreciated.


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