THE REST IS SILENCE (Helmut Käutner, 1959)

Superior to Akira Kurosawa’s Hamlet film, Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru (The Bad Sleep Well, 1960), Helmut Käutner’s Der Rest ist Schweigen, from West Germany, was first to move Shakespeare’s play up to the present and out of a royal court and into the world of business. John H. Claudius—note the middle initial— returns home from the U.S. upon news of the death of his father, the head of Claudius Steelworks, who presumably died in an air raid. John is suspicious of this official explanation from the get-go, believing that his father was murdered by the deceased’s brother, who runs the family business, and who just happens to be married, unexpectedly, to his former sister-in-law, John’s mother.
     But you know the story, which survives here only in a highly superficial form, with many fewer deaths and no philosophical dimension, no perplexing ambiguities. (However, a suggestion of deceptive appearances is signaled by blood-tinged opening credits in what turns out to be a black-and-white film.) Most important here is the shifted context referring to the West German postwar recovery, the “economic miracle.” When greed and the lust for civil power are widely being promoted, making corruption rampant, how difficult is it to abdicate one’s soul and dispatch a brother?
     The irony’s the thing: What passes for West German postwar rehabilitation is the exact same mindset that pursued war and led to the Holocaust: the dismissal of the claims of humanity that a rhetorical question sums up: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
      Käutner employs a slightly low, upturned camera, perhaps to impute to his characters (including his Hamlet) an odious self-importance and allows dreary grays to dominate effectively the visual tonality. His Ophelia, rechristened Fee, is handled delicately from the start. Our introduction to her finds her encased in glass—in the back seat of a car looking out the rear window. She is looking at her Hamlet, who has departed without realizing her presence, but her doleful gaze might also be meant for us. When she, later, completely crumbles, we, again outside, see her inside a translucent greenhouse where, entombed as the living dead, she decapitates flowers to convey her shattered soul. John is also outside, looking in at her, oblivious to his role in her destruction.
     The film’s most electric scene: the stage performance, bedecked with interpretive dance, that might have caught the conscience of John’s uncle if only he had had a conscience.
     Hardy Krüger, bespectacled but more abrasive than melancholy, plays John H.

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