"Wer kinder lehrt..." The academic seeds of Fascism (Sjöberg's Torment), the youth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as slender figures skulking across a flat field and then rattling inside a stone manor. Out of mommy's carriage and into boarding school for young Törless (Mathieu Carrière), though expectations of coming-of-age coziness vanish as soon as the slattern the boys visit after class is revealed to be the great vampiress herself, Barbara Steele like a sepulchral August Sander portrait. Adolescence has its cruel amusements, the lad who entertains thoughts of superiority and violence (Bernd Tischer) soon inaugurates an experiment in terror, a weaker colleague (Marian Seidowsky) makes for a handy guinea pig. Punishment turns into torture, whippings and rape and rituals of degradation follow. Deviations from the academy's military orderliness, or extensions of it? "Is there a gap in our reality?" The Third Reich and Lord of the Flies are on the horizon, Volker Schlöndorff in his debut sets the Neuer Deutscher Film thrust of inquiry and exploration. (Resembling a teenaged Proust, Seidowsky is put against a mock-trial with a light shining on his face and suddenly he's Peter Lorre in a Langian nightmare.) The "inadequacy of reason" and the discarding of compassion pave the alarming road, the protagonist who might be "a lawyer or a poet" hears the scapegoat's cries and gazes away into a mirrored shard—from dispassionate observer to accomplice in denial, he tries to show pity and instead blames the victim. Where Anderson's If... sees educational oppressiveness as a trigger to the students' revolutionary impulses, Schlöndorff presents it as an incubator for goose-stepping horrors. The pistol in the attic and the riddle on the blackboard, the gymnasium that becomes a stage for a virtual lynch mob. "We can't get into philosophical debates here!" Consequences fall to Full Metal Jacket and The White Ribbon. Cinematography by Franz Rath. With Fred Dietz, Jean Launay, and Lotte Ledl. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce