A Film by Sean Mathias
Set in World War II-period Nazi Germany, Bent examines love, betrayal, lies, redemption, and truths. Director Sean Mathias has taken the award-winning stage play and adapted it for the screen using a talented British cast.
The film speaks about colors; beautiful, delicate signs of life on the one hand — on the other, stark, brutal, at times quite surreal. At one point, the vivid red of the Nazi armband carrying the swastika emblem seems the only color in the scene, as the characters all seem to wear black uniforms or dirty white and gray clothes.
Blood dully gleams as it seeps from the victims of the Nazis’ brutality and lipstick glints on a 13-year-old girl who has been raped unto death – these too come in the color red, but weaker, less vivid than the ever-present Nazi color.
Along the way we see gray steel rails dance in and out of focus symbolically for the journey to the camp. There are a couple of dramatic, claustrophobic scenes in rail cars that seem almost Biblical in the depiction of suffering and forbearance.
An important distinction is whether the young man at the center of the piece ought to be wearing a pink inverted triangle or a yellow Jewish star on his concentration camp uniform. Actor Clive Owen, whom you may remember from the British miniseries Chancer on some PBS stations, turns in a fine performance as Max. Although he keeps saying, “This isn’t happening,” when first sent to the camps, we see his transformation from denial to honesty.
Owen’s Max is a gay character who gets himself a yellow Jewish star instead of the dreaded pink triangle. Hitler hated gays more than he hated Jews, and put those he could find into his “final solution” recipe. Max pretends Jewishness and fakes a heterosexual reaction to a girl he calls “an angel… for saving my life” to put himself higher in the pecking order of the camp when he is interned. He gets extra privileges, but along the way he sees his part in the brutality as merchandising his soul, it seems. He tries stubbornly to hold onto the idea of buying his way out of the death camp.
This film’s supporter, Mick Jagger (who takes a brief turn as Greta), has picked a good pet project. It is at center a passion play, an exhausting run through the gamut of emotions. Bent takes Max from a garden of earthly delights to the valley of the shadow of death — with alacrity. At times, events overwhelm. There is ultra violence. Yet there are fleeting moments of laughter, and warmth. A Nazi stops a beating being given a victim at one point when it becomes too brutal for even him to watch. Humanity can show in the strangest ways.
Bent works as well in film as it did on the stage, and the relevant issues are still there: Hate doesn’t benefit anyone, and love of any sort merits care.