Monday, August 24, 2015

Jonathan – revisited

Director: Hans W. Geissendörfer

Release date: 1970

Contains spoilers

When I first looked at this film I gave it an “honourable mention” due to the fact that the print I looked at was so horrendous. Having now watched the film from a much better source I have decided to revisit the film and review it.

The film is, as I mentioned first time round, a political allegory as much as anything and, whilst the cinematography is lovely, I unfortunately found it as plot confused and plodding as I did the first time around. The film is based on Dracula with the conceit that vampires rule the area, controlling a totalitarian regime. This means we get some familiar scenes, from Stoker’s novel, but they are often out of novel order – Jonathan (Jürgen Jung) reaching the Castle of the Count (Paul Albert Crumm) is the start of the film’s climax rather than the introduction, for instance.

aftermath of the dog attack
Following an opening containing a suicide, Vichy type collaboration, a girl ripped apart by dogs (with the actual act occuring off screen) and a fleeing man shot in the back – all of which builds a sense of the dystopian world we have entered – we meet Jonathan who is part of a resistance organisation. The time has come to fight back and the resistance plan to chase the vampires, as they gather at the Castle, into the sea – water being deadly to the vampires. Jonathan is sent ahead, told to infiltrate the Castle and prepare the prisoners to join in the revolt.

Jürgen Jung as Jonathan
He is given a bag full of vampire killing paraphernalia and a map, which it is vitally important he doesn’t lose. Within a few scenes he loses his coach driver and horses and the bag but its loss does not seem to slow anything down and this was the shame of the movie. That it pulled together a variety of scenes that needed more narrative coherence. The best of these were when the film mirrored the novel.

drink of me
As Jonathan leaves on his quest the Count pays Jonathan’s fiancée Lena (Eleonore Schminke) a visit and, having fed upon her opens his shirt and offers her opportunity to drink at a bloody weal on his chest – taking the scene from Stoker and placing it near the head of the film. This taking of Jonathan’s love has little on running story impact other than the fact that she is amongst the brides later in the film. As I mentioned previously there are a large number of brides, dancing through scenes like refugees from the Bolshoi. This offers a dreamlike quality to the cinematography.

kisses for us all
We do get the scene of the three brides from the book, coming to Jonathan when in the castle (I am still as befuddled now, as when I last looked at the film, as to why someone deemed as dangerous to the vampires was allowed free reign of the castle by the Count). This includes them being given a baby to eat, instead of the hero, and the mother running up to the castle (though the wolves that kill the mother are human collaborators). I have read that the “twist” of allowing the vampires to walk in the daylight was the root cause of their dominant position in the world created for us – though we should remember that Dracula could walk in sunlight in the novel. Rather, to me, it was the collaboration of ordinary humans with the monsters that gave said monsters their power.

As interesting a concept as the film may have, and as beautifully designed and shot as the film is, it is a bit of a chore to watch – though I found the direct novel parts alleviated the chore to a degree. It isn’t a bad film, at all, but it isn’t great fun either. I’m going to give it a 5 out of 10, overall, and suggest it is a must see for completists but casual viewers really may want to give it a bit of a wide berth.

The imdb page is here.


kirsi mannonen said...

Looks lovely, but idea of rat being slowly and brutally killed is yuck.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I can't disagree Kirsi