Nine years after “Measuring the World”, the paths of director Detlev Buck and writer Daniel Kehlmann cross again – this time around Thomas Manns CONFESSIONS OF THE INVESTIGATOR FELIX KRULL to adapt. Our review reveals how successful this was.
OT: Confessions of the imposter Felix Krull (DE 2021)
The plot summary
The good-looking and charismatic half-orphan Felix Krull (Jannis Niewöhner) has a talent for always gaining an advantage with captivating, entertaining stories and eloquent remarks. Advantages that he urgently needs – his social status is extremely expandable. Deeply in love with a similarly cunning lady of the night named Zaza (Liv Lisa Fries), he plans to work on his social advancement in a luxury hotel in Paris and thus enable a comfortable retirement for two. But the criminal head waiter Stanko (Nicholas Ofczarek), the inscrutable permanent guest Madame Houpflé (Maria Furtwängler) and the stupid Marquis Louis de Venosta (David Kross) give Felix reason to constantly adapt his plans…
Thomas Mann’s novel “Confessions of the Imposter Felix Krull” is a light-hearted affair: intended by the legendary writer as a parody of Goethe’s autobiographical work “Poetry and Truth” and the novel of education and development in general, it impresses with a fascinating linguistic balancing act. The protagonist, who also acts as a narrator, uses overheard, pretentious language, which he uses with mischievous joy, many a faux pas and an enchanting, gallant attitude in order to ingratiate himself, to wrap people around his finger and to trick them. However, isolated settings and adaptations of “Confessions of the Impostor Felix Krull” are bulky and cumbersome, as if they wanted to do justice to the gravitas of the name Thomas Mann. Director Detlev Buck believes that this is an unfortunate approach (“Bibi and Tina” series) and the writer Daniel Kehlmann, who was responsible for the script together with Buck, happily understood. Their adaptation is permeated by a noticeable respect for Mann, which is also expressed in the fact that the dialogues are transferred to the screen confidently and with a lot of verve.
The stupid Marquis Louis de Venosta (David Kross).
In addition, Buck is with Jannis Niewöhner (“4 Kings”) A real stroke of casting luck: he captures the deviousness and cunning of the protagonist as well as how he knows how to use charisma and honeyed convoluted sentences and ambiguous arguments as weapons in his role. Niewöhner’s Krull is a little more empathetic and warm-hearted than the novel version, but this fits seamlessly into Buck and Kehlmann’s overall vision. On top of that, her Krull is even less likely to be made a plaything of circumstances than Mann’s: The film’s Felix is therefore friendlier and more rebellious at the same time, which represents a character paradox with a lot of pulling power and consequently benefits the narrative pace and the film’s dramaturgy. The dominant tone of the film is “elegant and devious”, with the atmosphere of a feel-good farce in historical garb, interspersed with individual dramatic and melancholic inserts. These tonal transitions are fluid, which is successful not only because of the extremely entertaining script and Niewöhner’s acting, but also thanks to the rest of the cast. “Babylon Berlin” actress Liv Lisa Fries, for example, manages to let Zaza grow beyond the “prostitute with a heart” stereotype: Her Zaza has dedication written all over her face, as well as an ironic distance from what surrounds her. In addition, the script and especially Fries’ sly look suggest that she is at least Felix’s equal when it comes to cunning. Not only with this, but with Zaza’s prominence in the story in general, Buck and Kehlmann deviate from Mann’s original, but they certainly capture the spirit of the writer, who wanted to create modernity in a historical guise with this story.
“With Jannis Niewöhner, Detlev Buck has succeeded in casting a real stroke of luck: he captures the deviousness and cunning of the protagonist, just as he knows how to use charisma and honeyed convoluted sentences and ambiguous arguments as a weapon in his role.”
Also David Kross (“Simple”) gets more to do as Marquis than would be the case in a true-to-life film adaptation. Although for long stretches he is merely an aristocratic, enthusiastic listener who hangs dreamily and spellbound on Felix’s every word, he is allowed to fluctuate between astonishment, perplexity about the social circumstances, and euphoria that shares Krull’s excitement. And so he almost becomes another identification figure. On top of that, Kehlmann and Buck have empathy for this character without betraying the socially critical element of the plot. The widening gap between rich and poor is an ever-present concern in her film, and even if some of the novel’s passages in the film are less poignant, the film adaptation makes up for it with a nastier Stanko. Purists will certainly debate this decision eagerly. In the context of this adaptation, Nicholas Ofczarek’s works (“Cortex”) However, his sleazy performance is very good: his Stanko is the element of the shadow world protected by the higher-ranking members of the social pecking order, a meanie who pushes people to forget morality and who keeps everyone under him down with violence and by exploiting his connections. Commenting pointedly on such betrayal of one’s own status is a careful, well-integrated modernization of the template.
The inscrutable long-term hotel guest Madame Houpflé (Maria Furtwängler) has her eye on Felix Krull.
The aforementioned reverence for Mann ultimately comes into its own in this adaptation when Buck approaches the non-heteronormative features of the original: he sticks to the style of the novel, leaving things unspoken despite all the unmistakability. But the devoted, melancholic portrayal of Lord Kilmarnock, who has parallels to Mann, becomes an almost touching tribute to the author in this adaptation. And the way Buck stages the way that Felix Krull and Zaza merge the foreplay and practice of a trick with which Krull wants to avoid being drafted into the military is literally tongue-clicking: in men’s clothes and with a painted mustache, Zaza temporarily gains sole control in her relationship with Felix, and completely turns his head with her androgynous look. The acting sparks literally fly between Fries and Niewöhner; Buck and his “Bibi & Tina” cameraman Marc Achenbach film this teasing scene as enjoyable fun between two lovers. Although there is occasionally an appreciative look at their bodies, the focus is primarily on their expressive, responsive and lustful faces. This applies to the entire film: Achenbach and Buck let the spellbound Kross, the enjoyably tricking Niewöhner and the lovingly cunning Fries handle the film, and above all let the story work because we recognize every little nuance in their acting. Nevertheless, they leave enough space to show off the scenic Paris, the magnificent hotel and the ornate costumes rather than creating claustrophobia. That wouldn’t be on par with Felix Krull, who always wants more.
“The widening gap between rich and poor is an ever-present concern in her film, and even if some of the novel’s passages in the film are less poignant, the adaptation makes up for it with a nastier Stanko.”
Conclusion: Buck’s “Confessions of the Impostor Felix Krull” is a lively, gallant, eloquently mischievous adaptation of the amusing Thomas Mann original, which retains the flair of the original, but at the same time accelerates the novel in a carefully focused manner for modern cinema.
“Confessions of the Impostor Felix Krull” can be seen in USA cinemas from September 2nd, 2021.