Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Starring David Kross, Daniel Bruhl, Christian Redl, Roberd Standlober
Directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner
Written by Michael Gutmann, Marco Kreuzpaintner
One of the great things about going to festivals like Fantastic Fest is getting to see movies that you might never have known existed before. Premiers are one thing, but there are movies that slip through the cracks until a festival like this one brings them to a whole new audience. While American cinema seems content to vomit remakes upon the audiences, Germany is coming up with some really interesting entertainment. Case in point, Krabat, the German import from 2008.
Based on the 1972 children's book by Ottfried Preussler, Krabat is the story of a begger who wants to escape his life of starvation and freezing to near death every night. When a flock of ravens appear at his hovel, accompanied by a whispering voice promising him more, Krabat heads toward an old mill where he finds a scarred up "master" and a group of other boys who serve the master and, in return, learn the black arts of sorcery. But everything has a price, and the boy soon realizes that his newfound power means he can't escape the old mill.
The movie is subtitled, which does not distract from the presentation at all. In fact, it works much better than an overdubbed vocal track would've. Performances in the film are heartfelt and committed, especially by David Kross (Krabat) and Daniel Bruhl (Tonda). The mill master, played by Christian Redl, is remarkably evil and plotting, dominating to a fault and full of enough spite and hatred to make him give children nightmares.
Visually, the film is stunning. Through the use of stark shadow and dark sets, the director sets a mood that easily slips from depressing to fantastic and back again. Most of the colors in the movie are muted, giving a somber look, but occasionally there a pop of color that remind the audience that what they are watching is a fable, something designed with the fantastic in mind. Even the soundtrack (with the exception of the last song over the credits) is near perfect for the film.
For all its triumphs, there are a few minor problems. First, the film is too long. There are several scenes which seem to serve no purpose (like a flour fight between the boys) and which drag the film down. Also, there are several places where the movie feels like it has ended, only to start another scene after a moments fade to black. While not a deal-breaker, the third time it happens is remarkably annoying and the audience finds itself muttering "get on with it," in spite of the otherwise phenomenal movie. And the final song which covers the end credits is, to put it bluntly, garbage. While the whole movie is scored with hauntingly gothic choirs and stringed orchestras, someone made the decision to put a techno song over the end credits. But the rest of the film is so good, it can be overlooked if one rushes out of the theater fast enough to let the techno song ruin it for them.
On the whole, Krabat is enjoyable, memorable, and stylish. While the book it comes from is billed as children's literature, the movie is intense enough for adult audiences and delivers a satisfying message with a solid two hours of entertainment.
4 out of 5
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