In the hands of director Jerry Schatzberg, Reunion, Fred Uhlman's short, sharp shock of an autobiographical novella, becomes a ponderous feature. REUNION has good intentions and production values, but lacks the humanity that could have given this Holocaust tale real impact.
In the present-day prologue, Henry, nee Hans, Strauss (Jason Robards) is an aging New York businessman who goes to Germany on a painful errand. The story then takes the form of sepia-toned reminiscence, with the young Hans Strauss (Christian Anholt) living an affluent boyhood in early 1930s
Stuttgart. One day a new student arrives at Hans's school, Count Konradin Von Lohenburg (Samuel West), scion of an illustrious Teutonic family. Courteous but remote with others, the teen nobleman is drawn to Hans through their common interests. But the close relationship is doomed by the rise of
the Nazis--Hans is Jewish and Konradin is the living embodiment of Hitler's Aryan ideal. His royal family also subscribes to bestial anti-Semitism. National Socialist brownshirts and thugs rise to prominence in the nation and in Hans's school, and eventually a beatific Konradin tells Hans that
he's met Adolf Hitler and embraces Der Fuhrer's principles for "saving" Germany.
Hans's parents send him to safety in America, then kill themselves with gas, presaging the coming fate of millions. The adult Hans has not returned to Stuttgart for 50 years, and now he visits his family's neglected graves, their impounded possessions, and the bombed-out site of the old school.
When he tries to find out what happened to Konradin he meets with denials and evasions until the startling final scene.
Well, maybe not so startling, because the filmmakers broadly hint at the payoff, flashing stark shock-cuts of an ominous tribunal, and a grim-visaged judge bellowing "Traitors!" followed by a dangling noose.
It comes as no surprise that director Jerry Schatzberg spent 20 years as a photographer, notably for Vogue magazine, before turning to cinema in the early 1970s. For the central section of REUNION, Schatzberg sought to recreate the muted hues of autochromes, early color photos. Depending on one's
cultural bias, the results either recall a vanished era in the faded tint of nostalgia, or look like the worst computer-colorization job yet. The director also throws in a curious montage of period film clips, not only of Hitler Youth on the march, but also Marlene Dietrich, miniature rocket
launchers and an elephant.
It's not a very accessible narrative, and the script, by dramatist Harold Pinter, feels as stiff and formal as Konradin himself. Pinter's works are famed for their use of pregnant pauses and foreboding silences, and many of the sequences in REUNION indeed unfold wordlessly. But while it is
possible to say more with less, it is also possible to say less with less. The latter happens here; all of 70 minutes pass before the picture's first meaningful conversation. At another point, Konradin begins a poignant confession to Hans: "I've never had a friend before. You're my first friend."
The scene cuts off right there.
Despite fine acting by all, the characters seldom transcend their figurehead roles. Jason Robards stays a cipher until the epilogue, when his motives become clear. Newcomer Samuel West is the son of British actor Timothy West, and he gives Konradin the proper poise without stuffiness. The
righteously naive young count makes an ideal dupe for fascism, and in the book his seduction by the Third Reich is as inevitable as it is awful. The movie, however, paints Konradin as initially anti-Nazi, so his abrupt indoctrination seems more puzzling than tragic.
REUNION was largely backed by the French and, except for the opening New York scenes, filmed on location in Germany. It marked the 100th production for art director Alexandre Trauner, whose oeuvre encompasses legendary motion pictures like Marcel Carne's CHILDREN OF PARADISE, Orson Welles's
OTHELLO, and several Billy Wilder classics. Trauner has a cameo here as a caretaker who leads Robards to the warehoused Strauss property. (Sexual situations, adult situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1989
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: In the hands of director Jerry Schatzberg, Reunion, Fred Uhlman's short, sharp shock of an autobiographical novella, becomes a ponderous feature. REUNION has good intentions and production values, but lacks the humanity that could have given this Holocaust… (more)