June 14, 1982 12:00 PM

Klaus Maria Brandauer, playing an obscure German actor in the 1920s, goes to visit his girlfriend. After some bizarre dancing, they wrestle violently, then make love. The sense of menace—it seems he might kill her—never leaves the movie, as Hungarian director Istvan Szabo probably intended. Mephisto won the 1982 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Brandauer, an Austrian, is sensational; his caterwauling, manic, success-obsessed actor is a dazzling achievement. As he claws his way from a regional stage in Hamburg to directorship of the Nazi-run state theater in Hitler’s Berlin, Brandauer adapts to his environment like a chameleon. But slowly he realizes he has sold his soul to the Devil. And Brandauer’s actor is best known for playing Mephisto—the Devil himself. Karin Boyd is the girlfriend whose sexuality gives way to a sensitivity that makes her a sane guidepost in the actor’s life. Instead of a straight-line story, Szabo jumps from time to time, giving impressions, sometimes in half scenes. It’s like flipping through old photographs from an era too terrifying to understand. (In German with English subtitles) (Not rated)

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