Circle of Deceit (France-West Germany, 1981):
(Die Fälschung)

Exchanging the domestic skirmishes of his crumbling marriage for the considerably bloodier upheavals of the Lebanese civil war, German journalist Bruno Ganz takes off on assignment to volatile Beirut. No sooner has he checked in his hotel than he's dodging bullets in the streets, ducking explosions with his cynical photographer pal (jauntily played by Polish director Jerzy Skolimoski), and checking in with old flame Hanna Schygulla, a consulate widow locked in her own search for an unclaimed orphan to adopt. In Volker Schlöndorff's impassioned dissection of journalistic quandaries, shot on location amid disturbingly real-looking smoldering rubble, the outsider's gaze is used to evoke horrors even as it is skewered for its essentially parasitic passivity. Beirut's charred harshness clanks with the watery dissolves that bookend the story, yet Schlöndorff, rejecting the fallacy of handheld cameras and jerky editing, keeps the picture visually whole -- the contrast lies instead between Ganz's struggle to retain professional objectivity and his growing awareness of the voyeuristic nature of his detached position. Unlike a facile middlebrow thriller like Under Fire, the film recognizes the impossibility of fully reflecting a nation's conflicts through the affairs of fictional characters -- the journalist's despair stems from the impotence of the observer, his guilt crystallized (rather than exonerated) by his stabbing of a Muslim stranger near the end. More obvious and less steely in his surveillance of warring political viewpoints than Otto Preminger in Exodus, Schlöndorff nevertheless displays a similarly Teutonic skepticism toward easy escape hatches when it comes to capturing the scars of war-battered soil -- how different, after all, is filmmaking from journalism? Schlöndorff wrote the adaptation with Jean-Claude Carrière, Margarethe von Trotta and Kai Hermann, from Nicholas Born's novel. Music by Maurice Jarre.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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