The Film Movement division Film Movement Classics January 8, 2019 Blu-ray release of the 1997 drama "Bent" continues what Classics describes as an effort to rescue (often largely forgotten) notable films from the vault. The awesomeness of these releases extends well beyond the pristine remasters of these art-house gems and the exceptional bonus features to releasing them without the arrogance associated with a competitor (which Classics regularly outshines) that claims to set the criterion for such films.
Like all classics, the value of "Bent "includes the relatability of the movie. The broadest level is the extent to which many of us have been persecuted for what someone "bigger and stronger" considers a flaw; another aspect of this is the ongoing storm trooper tactic of dragging innocent people out of their homes regardless of the legitimacy of that act. A lighter note is that "Bent" is a darker and better-quality version of the 1993 Robert Sean Leonard and Christian Bale film "Swing Kids," which depicts a Disneyfied image of Nazi oppression.
The pedigree of "Bent" begins with screenwriter Martin Sherman basing this period piece on his play of the same name. The merits continue with Clive Owen doing an exceptional job in the lead and Sir Ian McKellen having a very memorable cameo. This is not to mention Mick Jagger dressing in drag to perform in a gay cabaret.
The opening scenes of "Bent" present additional relatable elements of the film. Openly gay Max (Owen) is waking up in 1934 Berlin with thoughts that include the prior night of decadence at the aforementioned night club in his head. His first rude awakening is in the form of partner Rudy (Brian Webber) being displeased about the presence of the younger and cuter man who spent the night.
The persistent pounding on the door turning out not to be the landlord seeking back rent is the second wake-up-call. The interlopers are Nazi soldiers that are there as part of the Night of the Long Knives that is designed to strengthen the power of Hitler. Max and Rudy get caught up in that because the twink hook-up is a particular target of that campaign.
The first bit of context is that "swing kids," gay men, and other folks who enjoy partying, boogieing, and getting down in early '30s Berlin are like those who embrace The Jazz Age of '20s America. They live in a bubble and either are oblivious to or do not care about the coming storm. This leads to their worlds immediately crashing down on them. The increasing evidence that most of us are in for a very rough period shows that these reversals of fortune are not a thing of the past.
An even more personal aspect is the price that the vast majority of us have paid for youthful mistakes in the form of bringing the wrong person home. Although this often does not involve armed invaders, we learn to deeply regret our bad judgment,
The raid ends very badly for the cute young thing and forces Max and Rudy to go on the run; Max seeking the assistance of partially closeted respectable family man Uncle Freddie (McKellen) conveys another aspect of gay life that continues today.
The Nazis catching up with our boys while they are living rough leads to the couple being put on a train to Dachau. The relatable aspect this time is Max having his loyalty to his partner tested. This leads to additional cruelty that is COMPLETELY designed to humiliate Max and another passenger for the entertainment of the soldiers.
Max continuing his pattern of cutting a deal meets moderate success at Dachau; he gets the coveted job of moving rocks from one pile to another that is designed to trigger insanity. Fellow prisoner Horst (Lotharie Bluteau) gets the same assignment.
The interaction between Max and Horst provides the most compelling moments of "Bent." It is clear that Horst has more pride and integrity than Max. The icing on the cake is the highly erotic manner in which the men get to experience intimacy under intensely close scrutiny by the guards, The skill during these scenes makes us believe that Horst feels pain despite a lack of physical contact.
This bonding makes us believe that Max feels true love for the first time and experiences a related evolution. His paying a heavy price out of that love leads to an intense scene with a tragic end. These events further demonstrate the human capacity for cruelty.
The most apt final thought regarding Bent" is the one that this post and many other articles on this film note; it reminds us that Jewish people are not the only Holocaust victims and that the persecution that it depicts is not limited to Nazi Germany.
The aforementioned extras begin with a booklet that includes essays by "Bent" director Sean Mathias on his approach to the project and by film historian Steven Alan Carr on the historical context of the film. Both writings confirm that this film is brave and bold.
The bonus features largely consist of presentations of clips from interviews with the stars. We also get Mick Jagger discussing his uncertainty regarding his ability to adapt to the style of the music in the film. A highlight is the Jagger "Streets of Berlin" music video.