May 2012: Kopfstand
Kopfstand was filmed in 1980, released in 1981 to a limited distribution in Austria. This, in itself, is such a pity because this is one of Christoph Waltz’s finest performances, right up there with Hans Landa. In my opinion, Mr. Waltz would have been an Academy Award winner had this film received the widespread distribution it should have.
Christoph Waltz plays the role of Markus Dorn, a young man clearly unhappy in his home life. His mother has a boyfriend he does not like, and she has chosen her paramour over her son’s happiness. Markus comes in late one evening, and in what is clearly one of many arguments, he antagonizes his mother who accuses him of being on drugs. She calls the police as the argument escalates, and they take him from his bed to the police station where his refusal to cooperate ends up with him being sent to an asylum for being mentally unbalanced.
Markus has no mental disorder. Quite the contrary, he is acting out in an appropriate way for a boy of his age (17 or 18) who had been neglected and lacked a nurturing mother and father figure. In the asylum, however, his attitude and refusals to ‘go along’ with the corrupt head doctor’s evaluations, lands him undergoing brutal electroshock therapy repeatedly as a punishment.
The descent into hell is furthered along by the other inmates, who befriend Markus and encourage him to stay strong and just go along with things so he will be released. It is not until a new doctor comes to the asylum and determines Markus to be sane, and the head doctor corrupt, he is given his freedom. However, his time in the asylum has led him to become damaged in many physical and mental ways, and it is only through his friendship with an older widow that he begins the path to redemption.
Christoph Waltz plays this role with a sensitivity and understanding that belies his youthful appearance. The vulnerability and ache for care and nurturance that Markus experiences elicits a strong empathetic pull within the viewer. It is very easy to feel for Markus and his pain and rejection at all corners, and to understand how he begins to question his own sanity when his world becomes insane. Waltz’s formidable skills as an actor were clearly developed and at their most exquisitely utilized in this film. Although it is a very sad film, and the scenes of electroshock therapy are intensely graphic and disturbing, it is absolutely not to be missed. This film has English subtitles.