We’re a little bit into pride month and I wanted to give something a write-up that wasn’t so obvious it would make even the captain himself break his own nose from extreme face-palm. So sorry Brokeback Mountain, sorry Blue Is The Warmest Colour, I might give you guys the review treatment some other time but, for now, I need you to hang on. What I’ve got here is a little film that pops up every once in a while on lists of notable LGBTQ movies but no one ever seems to talk about, so let’s break that mould – even if the overall film itself doesn’t set the world on fire. That’s better than nothing.
Bent stars Clive Owen as a promiscuous and indiscreet gay man in pre-WW2 Germany, who makes the mistake of bringing home a political opponent of the Nazi party on the Night Of The Long Knives (of all things). He’s chased from his home, arrested by the SS, sent to a concentration camp and forced find scraps of solace from wherever he can – including another gay victim of the Holocaust with whom he begins a secret romance. It’s not very often that the pink triangle is remembered to have suffered alongside the yellow star – during one of the most infamous intervals in human history, so it’s nice to have a film to (in theory) remind the homophobic twats of today why pride is necessary.
But is the film itself actually any good? Well, yes, at the end of the day it is a good film, there’s just a handful of unfortunates that do what they can to sully the experience for me. Nothing too dastardly, you must understand, but coming up with a final score was tricky. So let’s start with the good: the story is great and tragic; it fully capitalises on its themes of love being a crime punishable by death and is very comprehensive in that regard. The tribulations our protagonist is forced to endure are like individual tests for his characterisation to surpass, either at the expense of his own moral standing as a human being, or to the betterment of his outlook on life.
The film’s violent scenes are shocking, always going that one step further to leave you shaken and reminded of its basis in history (real-life blood shed always being without limits). When I thought a character was only going to be escorted away in chains – they ended up getting their throat slit open, when another is forced to participate in a fatal beating, they are then taken to do… something else. Moments like these are most effective during the film’s first half, it unleashes a nightmarish reality on the audience after opening with a dream-like cabaret show/orgy sequence that I suppose represents the peak of our hero’s carefree life before the Holocaust gets into full swing.
The fact that the film exists is commendable enough and I’m very happy such a subject has been tackled, especially since gay men forced to wear the pink triangle were immediately put back into prison after being “liberated” by the allies (this continued in Germany until the early 90’s by the way, after supposedly being decriminalised at the end of the end of the 60’s). I’m happy to own it on DVD and, as I said before, the story is very comprehensive and engaging; however, even I must admit that the filmmaking on display is rather crude. As far as I’m aware, Bent is not a made-for-TV movie, but good God does it look like one, its production value muddied by an apparent lack of budget that almost devalues what I like – including some alright performances and a pretty good script.
The latter half of the film let me down just a little, at least on the first watch; the journey to the work camp is anxiety inducing and brutal, but upon arriving at the work camp – the tension felt somehow lessened (you’d think actually arriving at a concentration camp would ramp the fear up to eleven but it doesn’t). I’m very confused by this; the constant fear I felt during Schindler’s List, Son Of Saul and The Pianist was not to be found in Bent, and I have to put that down to a fault in the direction. Even when an SS guard tells our characters he’s always watching them as they perform arbitrary hard labour – I never truly felt it and got the impression the film was floundering more than generating terror.
The relationship between the two lovers makes up for it enough by being complex, but I just wish the film was able to achieve more than a bit above the bare minimum. So that’s Bent, a decent effort the does enough for me to appreciate it with some faults here and there that keep it as a good film, rather than a great one. Owen’s character is put through extreme hell on his way into the camp but after one scene of emotional anguish he proceeds to get over it rather quickly, that represents the film quite well. Great intentions and the thought very much counts, but the execution holds it back and irritatingly rests on the cusp of being great. So watch it, just don’t expect the same effect as Brokeback – it’s fine. Happy Pride month.