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  Tin Drum, The Marching To A Different Beat
Year: 1979
Director: Volker Schlöndorff
Stars: David Bennent, Mario Adorf, Angela Winkler, Katharina Thalbach, Daniel Olbrychski, Charles Aznavour, Andrea Ferreol, Heinz Bennent, Marek Walczewski
Genre: Drama, War, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Oskar (David Bennent) has a strange family history. His grandmother met his grandfather when he was fleeing from the police across a field where she was picking potatoes, and she hid him under her skirts. Oskar's mother Agnes was in love with two men, German Alfred and her cousin, the Polish Jan, and when Oskar was born it was thought that Alfred was the father. The only reason Oskar decided not to return to the womb was the promise of a tin drum on his third birthday, and when he reached that age, he made up his mind to stop growing and be three years old for the rest of his life...

Adapted by Jean-Claude Carriere, Frank Seitz and director Volker Schlöndorff from the novel by Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum impressed many people on its release, even winning the Academy Award for best foreign language film. It's easy to see why: despite its length, the drama is never less than involving, thanks to the eccentric way it spins the tale of a family in Danzig as the Nazis rise to power, then inevitably decline. The precocious Bennent holds it all together; the reason Oskar stops growing is that he doesn't like what he sees of the world, and the adults who inhabit it, yet while you may think this laudable as the Nazis take hold during the late twenties and thirties, Oskar's motivation is not entirely noble.

Not long after getting his toy drum, Oskar discovers he has a special talent in that he can cause glass to smash simply by screaming. He first smashes the face of a grandfather clock at home, then graduates to street lamps and the spectacles of his teacher. It's a skill that will come in handy later on. As his mother falls out of love with her husband Alfred and carries on a passionate, illicit relationship with Jan, she is consumed with religious guilt, but all Oskar cares about is getting replacement drums for the ones he breaks.

The Nazis take hold of the culture insidiously, at first ridiculed, then as they capture the dispossessed mood of the Germans, they gather a larger following. When Beethoven's portrait is replaced by Hitler's in the family living room, we know that the Third Reich is infecting every home in the nation, whether welcome or not. Oskar's fellow children are no better, and he becomes more isolated through his mischief and physical state as he gets older. That mischief turns to subversion, as seen in the great sequence where he compels a rally to dance a waltz to the strains of The Blue Danube simply by distracting the band with his drumming.

Although we applaud Oskar for not wanting to be part of the Nazis at first, it's clear that he is not the lone voice railing against them that we would like to believe. By remaining a child, he not only avoids responsibilities for his life, but ensures that his self-centred nature is given free reign. When the Jewish toy shop owner who he befriends (a performance of quiet dignity by Charles Aznavour) is victimised into tragedy, we expect the reality of the political situation to hit home to Oskar, but in the next sequence, the siege, all he cares about is getting his grubby mitts on another drum.

Earlier in the film, Oskar says he prefers to be part of the audience when asked to join the circus by a dwarf performer, but later, we see that's not true. He falls in love for the first time, but remains true to his selfish character (and also gets involved in a couple of censor-baiting love scenes). Eventually, he joins travelling players entertaining the Nazi troops - it's developments like these that make The Tin Drum a curious experience, leaving you with mixed feelings about the people portrayed, encouraging you to make your own mind up about why they did what they did. The way the story jumps forward in time leads to an episodic film, but it always holds your attention, frequently through its grotesque surprises. Music by Maurice Jarre.

Aka: Die Blechtrommel
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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