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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s Mephisto (KL Studio Classics)


Another important work being released by KL Studio Classics.  Writer/Director István Szabó’s masterful Mephisto, which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1981 is anchored by the bravado performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer. 

The Film

Cinema is wide and vast.  No one can see everything.  Part of the beauty of Cinema is discovery.  It was only with Kino Lorber’s rerelease of Mephisto was I made aware of the work of István Szabó and his co-conspirator actor Klaus Maria Brandauer.  Mephisto is as crisp and astute a character study as it was released almost 40-years ago.  

Early 1930s Berlin struggling stage actor Hendrik Höfgen (Brandauer) wants nothing more than to be the great actor he has convinced himself he is.  Tirelessly working on his craft, bedding women, drinking, and challenging his fellow artisans is not enough to push him into the limelight.  As his other fellow actors and artist begin to flee as the rise of the Nationalist Social Party in Germany, he sees an opportunity… his opportunity.  As the title indicates Höfgen makes a deal with the devil and slowly loses his soul, if he had one, for the glory of the stage. 

István Szabó has created an epic of a frail character that succumbs to his ego and how quickly he falls deeper into the pockets of the Nazi Party. The film shows us clearly and very succinctly the rise of the Nazi party in Germany from a ground level.  Many will find this film fascinating because of the parallels drawn by current affairs.  Many will find it anxiety-inducing because of those parallels.  Szabó never makes this an overheated drama but rather films everything from a cold and calculated distance.  

Klaus Maria Brandauer’s Hendrik Höfgen is one of the truly great a character and performance ever put to celluloid.  Let me repeat this.  Klaus Maria Brandauer’s Hendrik Höfgen is one of the truly great a character and performance ever put to celluloid.  The power of the performance is how weak-willed and morally vacant Höfgen is.  Brandauer is magnetic here never trying to show the good in Höfgen just allowing him to exist.  There is a shallowness that reveals a deeper complex portrait of a man that will do anything for the warmth of the spotlight of the stage. 

Anchored by Bandauer’s truly great performance, Mephisto is the type of electrifying and challenging cinema that demands to be seen.  

The Transfer

The.4K restoration work done here and presented beautifully on Blu-Ray by KL Studio Classic is nothing short of miraculous.  The color, contrast, sharpness, and grain structure is perfect.  The film on Blu-Ray looks like a beautiful 35mm archival print. 

The Extras

They include the following: 

  • Audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan
  • The Central Europe of István Szabó
  • Remembrance of production designer József Romvári, directed by Sophy Romvari
  • Trailer

The new audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan is a must-listen.  The commentary is a deep dive not only into the film from a critical point of view, its production history, but a review of the historical figures that shaped the novel that the film it’s based on and the film itself.  Deighan gives us a detailed and thorough entertaining look into this challenging, artful, intelligent film with a commentary that is the same.  One can only hope that she is on other commentary tracks for Szabó’s films being released by KL Studio Classics.  

The Central Europe of István Szabó is a 3-minute short appreciation of the director’s work. 

Remembrance of production designer József Romvári – is an 8-minute documentary directed by Sophy Romvari.  Romvari, who is also the production designer’s granddaughter uses a mixture of home footage, behind the scenes photographs, and film footage to create a love letter to the man’s work.  

Rounding out the special features is Kino Lorber’s recent mega trailer for their release of István Szabó work (MephistoConfidence, and Colonel Redl)

The Final Thought

Mephisto is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.  KL Studio Classics has done it justice.  HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!!!

KL Studio Classics’ Blu-Ray of Mephisto is out July 21st

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