Bent (1997)

Genres - Drama, War  |   Sub-Genres - Gay & Lesbian Films, POW Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 26, 1997 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 117 min.  |   Countries - UK  |   MPAA Rating - NC17
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This film adaptation of Martin Sherman's play is only partially successful. The greatest problem is that it seems too theatrical; the stylized sets, the small number of people in the concentration camp scenes, the visual monotony of watching two prisoners constantly move rocks back and forth, the clipped exchange of repetitious dialogue, and the overwrought ending all contribute to making the film seem stagy and artificial. The scenes don't seem to flow together organically; instead, the film seems like a series of discreet set pieces. Also, some individual scenes are less compelling than they could have been; for example, a crucial scene in which Max "earns" his yellow star is filmed in a manner that minimizes its dramatic value. Granted, this particular example could be due to either a lapse in filmmaking or a conscious decision to not exploit the scene's highly disturbing content. Indeed, the film's subject matter is so emotionally charged that some of the scenes are affecting even if they do seem overly theatrical. The fine performances help a great deal; Clive Owen does a convincing job of portraying Max's transformation from a selfish hedonist to a man willing to reclaim his dignity while Luther Bluteau is quite effective at conveying Horst's underlying feelings of anger, pride, and fear. Their performances are particularly important in the film's showcase scene; as Max and Horst talk themselves into mutual satisfaction without any physical contact, they demonstrate the indomitability of the human spirit and the ability of people to express their sexuality, love, and defiance of oppression under even the most adverse conditions. Sure, this is a self-consciously crowd-pleasing scene that's intended to drive home an obvious point, but it's still quite moving. Too bad there aren't more equally compelling scenes in the movie.