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Coup de Grâce: The Criterion Collection

It's difficult to pinpoint a single more dreary and uninviting chapter of world cinema than that written in Germany during the 1970s. Full of dim and gritty dissatisfactions spanning the social, political, and personal realms, "New German Cinema" may have evolved as a self-loathing and angry but emotionally remote reaction to a troubled nation's dark history, but that doesn't make it any easier to sit through. Volker Schlöndorff's 1976 Coup de Grâce is no exception. Margarethe Von Trotta stars as Sophie, a desperate and confused Marxist-sympathizing aristocrat in 1919 Latvia, whose unrequited lust for a withdrawn Russian army officer sparks unpleasant consequences for her, her object of affection, and the viewer. Co-written by Von Trotta from a novel by Marguerite Yourcenar, Coup de Grâce (a.k.a. Der Fangschuß) packs degrading sex, Bolshevik revolution, illicit homosexuality, battlefield intrigue, and a few jabs at bourgeois society into a dull and hollow husk. Anemically played by an almost completely unappealing Von Trotta, Sophie's turmoil is distant, flat, and trite, and all of the men in her life are wooden props at the service of some muddled theme about dual lives, or possibly repressed passions; or maybe Schlöndorff just wanted to see if he could make a film to rival Rainer Werner Fassbinder's in terms of boredom, despair, and squalor. Well, not quite. Igor Luther's black-and-white cinematography rises above the era's typical grime for a classic aesthetic, but the film remains visually undistinguished, and the narrative plods along with relentless pointlessness. The Criterion Collection release of this title suggests the existence of a masochistic interest in films of this ilk, and those that willfully seek it out may be pleased to discover a good new digital anamorphic transfer (1.77:1) with the original monaural audio on a Dolby Digital 1.0 track (in French and German, with the option of newly translated English subtitles) and some new interviews with Schlöndorff and Von Trotta. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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