'Godfather Death' is one of Brother Grimm's most interesting stories and also one of their darkest. It does stand out among the rest of their stories, not just because of the comparitive lack of fairy-tale elements and comparitively grimmer tone but also on a thematic level and that it concentrates a lot on the characters' weaknesses. Thematically, with its themes of greed, revenge, fate and free will, some of it is quite heavy and thought provoking stuff.
DEFA's 1980 version of 'Godfather Death' is one of their most overlooked and lesser known, perhaps because it was not released cinematically and instead made for television. But also because it is one of their darket, visually and narratively, and relatively atypically so. It is sad that that is the case, because in my mind their version of 'Godfather Death' is one of their best and most interesting films. Also think the Grimm story itself should be better known somewhat, it is in the shadow of stories that have more exposure in film and media in general, ones that are lighter in tone (even the gruesome elements of their version of 'Cinderella' has nothing on it), have elements that people associate typically with fairy tales and are less heavy thematically, and it doesn't deserve to be. Just to say, the film was seen as part of a quest to see and review as many East German fairy tale films as possible and it has been a more than worthwhile one.
Like some of DEFA's other films, occasionally the acting is on the slightly theatrical side but really found so little to criticise.
It looks great, made for television and non-large budget films don't always look good and can look cheap in an amateurish way, 'Godfather Death' isn't like that. There is a much darker look to the lighting and the colours and the sets are more subdued compared to other films of theirs, that was not evidence of under-budget and was actually perfect for the tone of the original story. The costumes are especially good and the film is beautifully photographed with a lot of atmosphere. The music is a perfect fit and is a lushly and atmospherically orchestrated score on its own too, so a good example of a score that works within the film and independent of it. Especially liked the use of the harp.
The dialogue didn't come over as awkward to me, nor did it veer on the wrong side of camp, treating the themes thought-provokingly and not under-developing or trivialising them. The direction is technically assured and does well with balancing the varied characterisation. The story respects the source material, with it being true in spirit without being too dark so target audience shouldn't come into question, and manages to be even grimmer than it, not an easy feat. The ending is different and even more downbeat, but it is one where a box of tissues should be at the ready.
Dieter Franke especially excels in the acting department as the titular character, the meatiest of the characters, creating a formidable presence that is different from his experience in comedy. He is well matched by Jan Spitzer (occasionally over-doing it but mostly no problem), their chemistry being crucial in the film's success as it is something that drives the story and it scorches.
Concluding, more than well worth tracking down. 9/10
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