2 August 2016 | robert-temple-1
Powerful and brilliant Oedipal drama about a miscarriage of justice
This French film, L'AFFAIRE MAURIZIUS, is listed on IMDb as ON TRIAL, despite the fact that I believe that only the new French Blu-Ray with the French title has ever been distributed in the English-speaking world. Amazon lists it as ON TRIAL, but it is the same French disc bearing the French title, which in its newly restored state has had English subtitles added. Julien Duvivier wrote the screenplay and directed this film. He is one of the finest French directors, and this is one of his finest films. It has been restored as part of a series of French classics being revived on Blu-Ray, about half of which have had English subtitles added. The film is based upon a novel by the Austrian Jewish author Jacob Wassermann (1873-1934) entitled DER FALL MAURIZIUS (1928), published in English in 1930 as THE MAURIZIUS CASE, and also published in France in 1930, in two volumes, as L'AFFAIRE MAURIZIUS. It is the first novel of a trilogy, the second novel being ETZEL ANDERGAST (1931), published in England as ETZEL ANDERGAST (1932) and in America as DR. KERKHOVEN (also 1932). The third volume was Joseph KERKHOVENS DRITTE EXISTENZ (1934), published in English as KERKHOVEN'S THIRD EXISTENCE (1934). By that time, Wassermann was dead, having died of heart failure on January 1. The trilogy was his last literary work. He is best known internationally for having written CASPAR HAUSER (1908), which was apparently the basis for the film THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER by Werner Herzog in 1974 (with script by Herzog), though without Wassermann being credited. DER FALL MAURIZIUS was also made into mini-series twice. The first was made in 1961 in Italy. (Few details are available concerning this. Virna Lisi appeared in it.) The second was in five episodes on German television in 1981. Wassermann's books were all banned and burnt by the Nazis. I must be one of the few people who has read all three novels. I was therefore very eager to see what Duvivier could do with THE MAURIZIUS CASE, when his film was recently released in restored condition. The result is perfectly spectacular. The original novel was extremely lengthy, and rather tedious, over-loaded with case evidence and heavily over-written, so that it was something of a task to read it. But Duvivier saw the cinematic possibilities and with a particular genius managed to extract the essence and make a film far more powerful than the book itself. Duvivier was in top form, and every line of dialogue, every framed shot, every bit of atmosphere, every bit of editing, contributed to a work so refined that it could constitute a marvellous specimen for a master-class in film-making. The film is set in Bern, Switzerland, and shot there on location, to great effect. The original novel was set in Vienna. The film's hero is Etzel Andergast, the 16 year-old son of Procureur Andergast (in the novel, Freiherr, i.e., Baron, Andergast, Attorney General). Eighteen years earlier, the father had been responsible for sending a man named Leonard Maurizius to prison for murdering his wife. Young Etzel meets a strange old man who presents a petition to this father, and when his father is out, he reads it. It is a petition on behalf of his son, the imprisoned Maurizius. Etzel can see that there are serious defects in the case. A witness claimed to see Maurizius shoot his wife as he approached the door of his house and she came out towards him, but in fact she had been shot in the back. All such inconvenient evidence had been swept aside by Etzel's father in his desire to win a sensational case and make his way in his career. Etzel cannot tolerate this, and begins to investigate personally. This leads to immense complications and conflicts, and the true story slowly emerges. All the lies are exposed, the passions revealed, the secret history of a murder made clear. It is an extremely powerful story. The acting is magnificent, and the script and direction are utterly astounding. This is a real classic.