DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Bent, Fateless , Ushpizin , Live and Become

Title: Bent

Release Date: 1997

Nationality and Language: German

Running time: about 100 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  n/a (NC-17)

Distributor and Production Company:

Director; Writer: based on play by Martin Sherman




Relevance to doaskdotell site: Nazism and gays


This film as a screen adaptation of Martin Sherman's 1979 play (published by Avon) about the Nazi treatment of two homosexuals during the Holocaust. Indeed, "bent" is an antonym for "straight."

            This is not exactly on the scale of Schindler's List. The film looks a bit like a videotape of a play, even in the early cabaret scenes, when the two lovers are hunted down by storm troopers who have learned of their relationship by rumor. Later on, one of the young men dies, but the other (played by Clive Owen) tries to pretend to be Jewish instead of gay and wear the star rather than the pink triangle, but then he falls in love with another prisoner. Toward the end, Max and Horst are assigned to a work detail moving rocks and are not allowed to look at one another, but they engage in conversation resembling phone sex. One scene that does take advantage of film occurs when, during their initial moments of incarceration, not only are their heads shaved, but their chest hair is sheared or rather lopped off on-camera.

            There are some other moments of real brutality, such as in the box car when one of the gay characters is kicked for wanting to come to the aid of another prisoner. The ending, where one is shot and the other electrocutes himself on a fence, is relatively predictable.

            The film and play take on a new importance for me inasmuch as disturbing, if questionable, material about the involvement of gays in the Nazi movement in the 1930s in Germany has recently been presented; see  note 7.


Fateless (“Sorstalansag”, 2005, ThinkFilm/Euroarts, dir. Lajos Koltai, novel by Imre Kertesz, 140 min, sug, R) relates the odyssey of a fourteen year old boy Gyuri Loves (Marcell Nagy) as he is separated from his family when going to take the train or bus on a "routine errand," and taken to a series of concentration camps (successively smaller) that only starts with Auschwitz-Birkenau. He gradually becomes sick with exposure (the depiction of his knee infection is graphic), and, just when he is thought to be a corpse, he is taken to an infirmary when the Allies arrive. He then is taken to Dresden (memories of "Slaughterhouse Five" perhaps) and East Berlin and Soviet territory. The film, in Cinemascope, gradually drifts into an almost black and white presentation, with some color coming back at the end.


He finally is reunited with his family in Hungary, after almost being turned away by a border. He reflects on the relative simplicity of life in the concentration camps, as if hell were somewhere else. The basic value of staying alive, compared to one's sense of purpose and integrity, comes into question. The lead character was 14 when this film was shot, and his work shows incredible maturity.


Ha Ushpizin (2004, Picturehouse, dir. Gidda Dar, 90 min, PG, in Hebrew) has an Orthodox Jewish couple in Jerusalem desperately trying to conceive a child during the Succoth holiday. They compare themselves to Abraham and Sarah. This seems to be a religious duty that goes with a recent bequest, to "be fruitful and multiply," an existential duty.  Two Armenian prisoners (ushpizin) show up for the party and their demands for hospitality fit into a miracle. A popular ethnic "comedy" in theaters at the end of 2005.  


Live and Become ("Va, vis et deviens", 2005, Menemsha/Elzevhir, dir. Mihaileanu, 140 min, NR but would be R, in French/Hebrew, France/Israel), web site  is a monumental film about the issue posed by the black Falashas in Ethiopia, who claim to be Jews, and descendents of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. When the son of one mother dies, she substitutes another Christian boy and gives him the same name, Schlomo. He is adopted by a family in Israel and at first has enormous emotional difficulties, wanting to become white. But he does learn to keep his secret. He grows up, and eventually will go to France and become a doctor. But much happens along the way. Apparently he escapes circumcision. He works the land for a while in a kibbutz. Later he is at a confirmation, when another boy tells the story of how the Negro race was created according to Genesis. (The scientific truth is simply that humans came from Africa as dark-skinned because of the intense ultraviolet light in equatorial regions, and as the tribes that migrated north gradually lost pigmentation in order to make vitamin D in weaker sun.)  Schlomo, still believing himself Christian, reads from The Book of John and gives an explanation that sounds closer to accepted science.  Major events are covered, including the Persian Gulf War, when the family has to hide in a shelter from Saddam's scuds. At one point Schlomo resists the idea of conscription, saying he will "fight with words." There is a TV clip showing President Clinton. He visits a prostitute and gets rolled in one scene. In the end, he gets married but has to deal with his feelings about being truthful to his bride. He sees combat on the West Bank as a doctor, but is not allowed to treat Palestinians. Finally, he finds his mother in Ethiopia. The film is in full wide-screen anamorphic Technovision, and shows Israel as a surprisingly gritty place. There are stunning panoramic shots of Ethiopia, both the highlands and the feeding stations in the desert. The film seems to make a political statement, that anyone rescued from the sectarian and probably radical Islamic culture in sub-Saharan African and raised in a progressive capitalist democracy (whether Israel or France) or any democratic country) can make it. This is an epic film with the huge scale of "Lawrence of Arabia" (I don't see the budget on IMDB, but it must have been in millions, comparable to the high end of the indie market), from an independent distributor in specialty art films (somewhat similar to ThinkFilm). Maybe the sensitive political matter scared away the big Hollywood companies.  Schlomo is played by Moshe Agazai, Moshe Abebe, and Sirak M. Sahabat.   


Related Reviews:  Aimeee and Jaguar  Motel Hell, Spider  Hidden Fuhrer, Blind Spot, Downfall


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