The Tin Drum (1979)

Dir. Volcker Schlondorff

My rating is reflects more my lack of interest in the story rather than the actual quality of the film. 1001 pick

Any talk about this film should begin with the performance of David Bennett, the eleven year old, non-professional actor who played the lead role. The film is based on the Gunter Grass novel about a three year German boy who decides to stop growing during WWII Germany. Bennett was an eleven year old, who—for some unexplained reason—had the body and appearance of a six year old. Schlondorff, in the commentary, also remarked about Bennett’s great voice, which he used in voiceover narration and which he said was like another character in the film. I agree with these remarks. Because of that, I can’t imagine making this film without Bennett. While I wasn’t crazy about the film, he was indispensable.

What is the film about? There seem to be at least two areas of interest. On one hand, a strange coming of age tale—a boy who, by will, stops his body from growing, but still experiences a sexual awakening. On the other hand, his story also seems to comment on Germany, both during WWII and, possibly, in the 1970s, when this film was made. Like many European films that take a similar tact, my unfamiliarity of the politics, culture and history of the country in question makes appreciating the film extremely difficult, creating an arm’s length experience of the film.

I’ll close with a few random thoughts. First, there are some controversial sex scenes in the film involving Bennett—nothing really graphic, but morally questionable since this eleven year old actor is involved in these scenes. (Schlondorff addresses this in the audio commentary.) Second, I liked some of the playful filmmaking techniques, especially in the beginning of the film. They made me think of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Danny Boyle.

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