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Mephisto (1981 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hungarian release poster
Directed byIstván Szabó
Screenplay byPéter Dobai
István Szabó
Story byPéter Dobai
Based onMephisto
by Klaus Mann
Produced byManfred Durniok
StarringKlaus Maria Brandauer
Krystyna Janda
Ildikó Bánsági
Rolf Hoppe
Martin Hellberg
CinematographyLajos Koltai
Edited byZsuzsa Csákány
Music byZdenko Tamássy
Distributed byAnalysis Film Releasing Corporation (U.S.)
Release dates
  • 11 February 1981 (1981-02-11) (Budapest premiere)
  • 29 April 1981 (1981-04-29) (West Germany)
  • 8 October 1981 (1981-10-08) (Hungary)
Running time
144 minutes
West Germany

Mephisto is a 1981 German political drama film co-written and directed by István Szabó, and based on the novel of the same name by Klaus Mann. It stars Klaus Maria Brandauer as a German stage actor (modeled on Gustaf Gründgens) who finds unexpected success and mixed blessings in the popularity of his performance in a Faustian play as the Nazis take power in pre-WWII Germany. As his associates and friends flee or are forced underground by the Nazi regime, the popularity of his character ends up superseding his own existence, until he finds that his best performance is keeping up appearances for his Nazi patrons.

The film was a co-production of Hungarian, Austrian, and West German studios; starring a mix of German and Hungarian-speaking actors. It premiered in Budapest on 11 February 1981, and received widespread acclaim from critics, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, the first Hungarian picture to do so.[1] Brandauer's performance earned him multiple accolades, including BAFTA and German Film Award nominations, and launched his film career.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Mephisto Trailer 1981
  • István Szabó x 3: Mephisto, Confidence, Colonel Redl – Official Trailer
  • 1981 Mephisto Official Trailer 1 Mafilm, Objektív Film
  • Mephisto - Előzetes



The film adapts the story of Mephistopheles and Doctor Faustus by revealing the costs to the main character Hendrik Höfgen as he abandons his conscience and continues to perform, ingratiating himself with the Nazi Party in order to retain his job and improve his social position.

Höfgen (modeled on German actor Gustaf Gründgens) craves center stage. The first third of the film follows his career as a frustrated, passionate actor slogging it out in provincial theaters, occasionally dancing and singing and doing parts in films to gain notice. He even founds a Bolshevik theater with a friend to generate more work, in the avant-garde period of the early 1930s, before the Nazis came to power. Initially, Hendrik is more successful in his social and love life than as an actor. Both strands unite, however, when his new wife watches him play the ultimate role, Mephisto (the devil's agent in the Faustus play), just before the Nazi party came to power in Germany.

While his wife, leading actors, and friends go into exile, or protest against the new regime, Hendrik returns to Germany lured by the promise of forgiveness for his communist theatre escapade and a desire to act in his native language. When the Nazi party effectively offers to make him a star, he doesn't hesitate. Great roles and accolades quickly come his way, and Hendrik revels in his success. Hendrik reprises his greatest role as Mephisto and agrees to run the national theatre, working around the cultural restrictions and brutality of the Nazi government. He blithely overlooks the profound moral compromises of his situation, excusing himself by using the power of his close relationships with Nazi officials to help friends who would otherwise be targeted by the regime.

The plot's bitter irony is that the protagonist's fondest dream is to become Germany's greatest actor, playing Hamlet and Mephisto, but in order to achieve this dream he sells his soul. In the process, he realizes too late that he is not playing the role of Mephisto but that of Faustus; it is the Nazi leader with a major role in the film (modeled on Hermann Göring) who is the real Mephisto.



The film was the highest-grossing Hungarian film in the United States and Canada with a gross of $3.9 million.[2]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Year Nominee Result
Academy Awards Best Foreign-Language Film[3] 1982 Mephisto Won
BAFTA Awards Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles 1982 Klaus Maria Brandauer Nominated
Bambi Award Best Actor (National) 1983 Won
Cannes Film Festival[4] Palme d'Or 1981 István Szabó Nominated
Best Screenplay Won
David di Donatello Best Foreign Film 1982 Won
Best Foreign Director Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer Won
German Film Award Best Actor in a Leading Role 1983 Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Rolf Hoppe Nominated
London Critics Circle Film Award Foreign Language Film of the Year 1983 Mephisto Won
National Board of Review[5] Best Foreign Language Film 1982 Won

Mephisto was the first Hungarian film to win the Foreign Language Oscar, and the only one until Son of Saul won in 2016.[6] On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 25 reviews, with an average score of 7.60/10.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Cunningham, John (2014). The Cinema of István Szabó: Visions of Europe. New York City: Columbia University Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-231-17199-1.
  2. ^ "Pix from afar: National bests in the U.S.". Variety. January 7, 1991. p. 86.
  3. ^ "The 54th Academy Awards (1982) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-15.
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Mephisto". Retrieved 2009-05-31.
  5. ^ "1982 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  6. ^ "The 54th Academy Awards (1982) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-15.
  7. ^ "Mephisto - Rotten Tomatoes". 1982-03-22. Retrieved 2023-05-20.

External links

This page was last edited on 10 June 2024, at 03:38
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