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Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg) - arthouse and international DVD / foreign language DVD / drama DVD / literary adaptation DVD review
THOMAS MANN'S THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN (Der Zauberberg) Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Featuring: Werner Eichhorn, Rod Steiger, Marie-France Pisier, Flavio Bucci, Christoph Eichhorn
Director: Hans W. Geissendörfer   Distributor: E1 Entertainment
DVD release: 12 January 2010   Runtime: 153 minutes
(1 disc)
Format: Color, Dolby, DVD, Subtitled, NTSC
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 1.33:1, Audio tracks (Japanese - Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), Subtitles (English)

Christoph Eichhorn in Hans W. Geissendörfer's 1981 adaptation of Thomas Mann's THE MAGIC MOUNTAINHans Castorp, the only living son of a now-dead wealthy Hamburg family, has recently graduated from the educational arena and is suffering from a minor bout of exhaustion. In the effort to kill two birds with one stone, his uncle sends him to visit his ailing cousin in a Swiss sanatorium. Although Hans is not meant to be a patient at this high-end retreat for those that are contagious and dying, it soon becomes evident that he is exactly where he needs to be-for a very long time.

The world that this impressionable yet perplexed intellectual is thrown into moves at an irregular pace that is nearly unfathomable. One day seems like three. Dining hours are like stepping into the twilight zone. The bazaar of sanatorium inhabitants traverse varied levels of sanity as they try to function with a façade of normalcy though their fear of death, and the awareness of reality, eats at their disillusionment.

Hans feels much like Alice in Wonderland as his short visit extends to an interminably long seven years within the small, twisted world of the Swiss sanatorium. Surrounded by those who fear living, constant death, and the always ailing, he matures with an unrealistic view of life. His only semi-natural success is his obsession with a woman of incomparable presence, but even that is tainted. She would never really be his; she already belongs to another.

Sadly, Hans begins to resemble the physical and emotional wraiths lining the sanatorium halls. His ability to live slips away as he grows more isolated from the world outside his haven's walls. The Great War looms large, and the evil perverting the minds of the masses makes its way into the façade of the Swiss sanatorium. Those of age are being drafted to the front lines, and no one is safe - not even the sanatorium inhabitants. Perhaps this is a good thing. Though death looms at the front lines, it also looms large within the sanatorium. Hans may die young, just as his parents did, but if he goes to war, he will truly live for the few heartbeats that he finds himself immersed in a world intent on living-not the rabbithole charade that has been his young adult life.

Thomas Mann's classic novel makes the jump to film with smashing success by the riveting performances in Hans W. Geissendörfer's 1981 adaptation. Setting, cast, language, and period center on the few years prior to the Great War in early twentieth-century Switzerland. This German film is symbolic of more than just one young man's maturation in an isolated and sluggish yet volatile environment; it speaks volumes of the socially and politically retarded circumstances of the many small countries - and millions of people-who became easy victims of the war.

The cinematography in The Magic Mountain is phenomenal, the literal aura of the film giving viewers the impression that the footage was filmed in the era being portrayed. Breathtaking mountain scenery throughout the film exhibits the Swiss Alps in their full splendor. Though the German dialect and need for subtitles distracts from some important visual cues throughout the film, it is nonetheless easy to get lost in the bizarrely unraveling world of Hans Castorp.
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reviewed by Sonia R. Polinsky
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