MOVIE REVIEW: BENT
When the Broadway production of Martin Sherman's Bent opened on December 2, 1979 with Richard Gere, it was not common knowledge that up to half a million homosexuals were also victims of the Holocaust, that they were forced to wear pink triangles, and that they were low men on the totem pole in the concentration camps.
In the succeeding years, plaques commemorating the deaths of these Nazi victims were finally placed at various camps, often after much dissension. There have also since been a documentary or two (e.g. Stuart Marshall's Desire) released and several books published like Neil Miller's Out of the Past in which he includes a chapter entitled "The Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals." In it, he quotes Heinrich Himmler's plans for gays:
"These people will obviously be publicly degraded and dismissed and handed over to the court. After the expiration of their court sentence, they will be, by my regulations, taken into a concentration camp and in the camp they will be shot while escaping."
But as Sherman's brilliant play has given a few scholars the impetus to do more research, hopefully Sean Mathias' startling film version of the work will inspire more to follow in their steps and consequently never let us forget again that the Nazis wanted to make Germany free of homosexuals.
Bent, by the way, is also a love story. In fact, two love stories. The first is between Max (Clive Owens), a bon vivant, and Rudy, his passive, bespectacled partner. The second is between Max and Horst. While passing as a straight Jew, Max meets Horst (Lothaire Bluteau), an early gay activist. Their affair soon takes on the tragic proportions of a Romeo and Juliet.
At the camp, Max and Rudy find themselves moving rocks uselessly from one pile onto another, hour after hour, day after day, as a guard stands over them with a rifle.
One of the more unforgettable moments in recent cinema occurs when the two are stiffly standing at attention next to each other during their short rest period. Slowly, they verbally make love to each other, never touching, yet -- to their own surprise -- they are able to bring each other to a climax.
MAX: I wish we could look at each other.
HORST: I can feel you.
MAX: They hate it if anyone looks at each other.
HORST: I snuck a glance.
MAX: At what?
HORST At you.
This is a brave, brilliantly effective movie which has the added bonus of a crinkled Mick Jagger singing in drag while swinging from a ceiling. But don't expect a naturalistic journey back to the '40s horrors. There is a bit of Becket here. A bit of Becket means you might have to work a little. You might have to give a little to Bent. But you'll get so much back in return.
(1997, Great Britain)
Director: Mathias, Sean
Starring: Clive Owen ; Lothaire Bluteau ; Brian Webber