Park Circus Video
This new edition of Sean Mathias' version of Martin Sherman's instant classic play Bent, recorded for Film 4, is a real treat and, apparently, it is the first time that it has been released on DVD. Unusually, the film is being sold in a dual format edition containing both the DVD and Blu-ray versions.
While the film is memorable for outstanding performances from its two leading actors, Clive Owen and Canadian star Lothaire Bluteau, it is also notable for cameos by Sir Ian McKellen and Mick Jagger, who in addition sings a haunting song.
In fact, there are additional big-name stars hidden away since, amongst others, both Rachel Weisz and Jude Law made tiny appearances at a time before they were quite as famous as they are now.
Before Bent, there had been numerous plays and films about the horrors of the Holocaust but few if any that concentrated on the men designated with pink triangles, homosexuals. Like Jews and gypsies, gays, as we now call them, were persecuted by the Nazis and Sherman helps us to understand what they went through.
The film starts in Berlin at the time that it was wallowing in Weimar decadence. This is demonstrated with lavish aplomb by director Sean Mathias and his designer Steven Brimson Lewis, helped by their actors and a team of entertainers with circus and dance backgrounds.
Within a few minutes though, the sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll are replaced by austerity as Clive Owen's Max and Rudy, the dancer who loves him (played by Brian Webber), escape in the nick of time when storm troopers invade their home.
In those awful times, it was almost impossible to remain on the run for long and soon the pair find themselves on a train to Dachau. This is when Max finds his will to live tested in the most extreme way, in a truly shocking scene.
He receives at least a little support and some hope from Bluteau playing Horst, another homosexual with a desire to survive the rigours of the concentration camp.
Together, the two men form an unholy alliance in which each provides the moral strength that allows the other to survive, whether pointlessly carrying rocks backwards and forwards or enjoying a moment of sexual congress in unbelievable circumstances. The ending may be inevitable but even then, it somehow manages to be uplifting.
Sean Mathias perfectly fuses beautiful camera work, Philip Glass's haunting music and many subtle touches to lift this film way out of the ordinary.
It is pleasing to see that Bent will be hitting the shops (perhaps websites would be a better description these days) in take-home form at last and anyone who buys can do so in the knowledge that they will not be disappointed.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher