Thomas Mann’s most famous novel is back on screen again. Detlev Buck has taken on the classic game. One could have wished him more courage to explain it.
(kna) Look at a well-filled champagne glass: it sparkles, and foam collects on top; In addition, the title is racy in bold gold letters: thus begins the remake of Thomas Mann’s most famous and commercially successful novel to this day, Confessions of a Crooked Felix Kroll.
The question immediately arises: who still needs it nowadays – the story of a charming con man against the deceptive golden backdrop of your father’s belle with the somewhat sarcastic social criticism typical of the author? Or will the crew and actors manage to get something relevant for our time out of the material and stir up the amazing twists and turns of the familiar plot line?
Three things catch the eye: Buck continues his experiments with film adaptations (“Herr Lehmann”; “Measuring the World”), but this time he’s taking on a classic film from a distant era. Daniel Kellman offers a screenplay that is more than just a version of the novel and affirms the immortality of Felix Kroll’s character. Third, some high-profile German-speaking actors and actresses make sure there’s something worth watching (like Martin Wöcky’s sinister image of a greedy jeweler), but not just all of them are successful.
Felix Kroll (Jannis Niewöhner) is here at the end of the nineteenth century, a charming, handsome young man from a broken bourgeois background, who felt the urge to switch and swap identity early on. His relationships with worldly authorities and other people are strangely flexible and mostly stay on the surface. Only prostitute Zaza (Liv Lisa Fries) becomes something like his best friend and partner in crime. Because when he takes a job at a luxury hotel in Paris, you quickly follow him to get a good match there.
While Felix is going through an amusing series of small exciting adventures, for example with the mysterious man-like wife of a toilet-manufacturer (Maria Furtwangler), she branches off in the hotel lobby to the poor and rich Marquis de Venosta (David Kross), who immediately appears on both red ears in love with her .
But the reality of class barriers has its effect. The Marquis must be sent on a world and educational journey by his family. Felix makes a daring show to travel as the Marquis while the Paris resident can continue to enjoy the joys of love.
Under the guidance of an alien scholar (Joachim Kroll), he arrives in Lisbon, where he puts the crowning test of his dubious art to dazzle and disguise before the Portuguese king. The final scene shows Felix on a ship bound for South America, and the further development remains obscure, as this is where the Thomas Mann part of the novel ends.
The script and direction manage well-chosen scenes. The contemporary treatment of the (secondary) characters is also quite compelling, which in the case of Zaza and colleague Felix Stanko (Nicolas Ovcharek) is almost a reinvention.
Jannis Niewöhner as Krull does something very respectable and orderly, but still owes the elusive person somewhere between the demigod and the criminal a lot of charisma and psychological sympathy. Here one would like more interpretative support from the text if Felix Kroll is to be understood as a modern hero of the age of social media and the disintegration of social and gender identities. Focusing on his role as a person doesn’t seem quite as modern.
What about a great ending? The openness of the ending is consistent with the novel, but here in particular one could have imagined more courage to put forth the explanations. In the end, Kroll started his “confessions” with Thomas Mann in prison – and how he got there we all would surely love to know.
Confessions of a fraudster Felix KrollGermany 2021 – Directed by: Detlev Buck, with Janis Neuner, David Kroos, Liv Lisa Fries, 114 min.