By David Combest
January 15, 2014
In German legend, the character of Faust has been one with much adaptation to the arts, including plays, musicals, prose and film. The legend is about a scholar who sells his soul to the devil for earthly pleasures and unlimited knowledge.
How the story ends depends on the version, but usually has the protagonist being saved by God’s grace. The legend has been made into a film many times as well as being the outline of many “sell your soul films,” such as “Bedazzled,” “Ghost Rider,” “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and so on.
F.W. Murnau, who also directed “Nosferatu” directed the story into a silent film in 1926; it is a very popular film version of the legend.
In 2011, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov released his version of the legend entitled “Faust,” which is supposed to be based on the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the adaptation by Thomas Mann.
It was met with much critical praise and won a Golden Lion at the 68th Venice International Film Festival. It was recently released to American theatres in 2013 and with praise from critics it will surely draw in moviegoers, history lovers and those who enjoy legends and folklores.
The film follows Faust (Johannes Zeiler), a scholarly professor who is in need of money and meets a moneylender who is actually the devil, named Mephistopheles (Anton Adasinsky), who takes him into strange scenes through the town and eventually shows Faust a woman named Gretchen (Isolda Dychauk) who Faust becomes obsessed with and sells his soul to spend one night with her.
The film is supposed to show the “inner workings of a man” as well as some type of political slant.
However, the film is awful.
The directing uses angles and camera motions that make the audience feel seasick almost. The film opens up with Faust cutting into a dead corpse looking for where the soul is held. When he is done with his sick experiment he walks around town thinking to himself in some pseudo-philosophical trance about life that never really expressed anything.
When Mephistopheles shows up, it’s confusing to see this short, fat man getting beat up by the townsfolk as he spouts more nonsense lines. In fact, the dialogue, which is meant to sound as if it is complex and has depth, is confusing, as if the two characters are talking on two different levels, having two different conversations.
The acting is poor, but this may not be the actors’ fault. After all, the script is scattered, so all they can really do is scramble through their lines.
With such poor work, I wonder why it received such praise and drew in an audience hoping to find something with an impact to it. The film has a jaded view of human beings and the world. It is hinted that there is only the devil and no God. It assumes everyone is generally bad and must suffer. Whatever political slant it has is not clear or offers any real insight. Perhaps it is popular for some famous directors to be cynical about humans because they do not want to look at the real problems of society and realize that life is not all good or all bad.
Whatever the case, this film is poorly done on all fronts, it is sold as an interesting take on a legend but we are given a poor understanding of humans as well as surface statements that are not given much thought. Should you come across this film, avoid it at all costs. 0/5 stars.