- Movie Rating -

Circle of Deceit (1982)

| May 14, 1982

Watching Volker Schlondorff’s Circle of Deceit was, for me, a humbling experience.  Here I am, a well-fed American living in the quiet suburb experiencing, night after night, the magic of a boring evening in my living room.  The worst thing I have to worry about is a telemarketer or, possibly, not being able to find anything good on TV.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, there are people who wake up every morning and have no idea if they will ever see the sunset.  There are bombs in the street.  Murders happen several times every hour and human life is reduced to almost nothing.

The world of Schlondorff’s film is Beirut which is portrayed as a war zone without heroes or villains and into this chaos comes Georg Laschen (Bruno Ganz) a weathered old gent from West Germany, a journalist who has come to this hot zone.  He and his overconfident photographer Hoffman (Jerzy Skolimowoski) who move into a Holiday Inn that has not exactly been unaffected by the violence.  They can hear the bombing going on all night, and often just a few blocks away.

Schlondorff allows the film to take place almost entirely from Laschen and Hoffman’s point of view, as they witness the death and desiccation of the part of Beirut and try and pull together a reason for all of the fighting, a catharsis that may or may not actually surface.  Who is to blame here?  The film’s opening passages (and our Western point of view) lead us to believe almost by knee-jerk reaction that it is anti-Palestinian.  Actually, it is quite the opposite, but by the end, there is cause to imagine blame for either side.

There is reason for Laschen to remain unaffected by all of this.  Too much personal interest could drive someone insane.  And with that, he remains somewhat detached, at least for a while.  The job of getting information to the public is quite cold.  He bargains for photographs of the dead with a Scandinavian in a table auction that seems startlingly cold-hearted.

The emotional weight is laid on a strange love affair that Laschen has with an old flame that he meets amid the fighting.  She is Ariane Nassar (Hanna Schygulla), whom he knew long ago; she was married to a Lebanese man and she is now widowed.  Like the movies of Hollywood’s Golden past, Georg and Ariane fall for one another all over again and make love while the bomb go off just miles away.  Then, as things must, they drift apart.  She adopts a Lebanese baby and life goes on. 

What is interesting about Circle of Deceit is its life-goes-on quality, which is ironic given its location.  There is a hardening of the soul when placed in an atmosphere of death.  “I’ve never thought less about death,” Ariane says, “I’ve never even been sick.”

This humanity amid inhumanity is what makes the film work, as does Schlondorff’s cold, spare approach. He never pushes for emotional effect.  We bring or emotional placement with us to the film.  We put outselves in Georg’s place.  I certainly did.  Here, living in comfort and fussing about trivial nonsense I thought of the conditions in place like Beirut, a place where comfort and joy are merely concepts. I don’t know how I would be in Georg or Ariane’s shoes but I know it would awaken my soul to the conditions of the world, just as this remarkable film, in a small way, certainly has with me.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Uncategorized, War