A most unique German made take on DRACULA that twists the material
into a metaphor for the Nazi era. Stylish and audacious this film is,
but itís also obnoxiously pretentious.
JONATHAN, from 1970, was the feature directorial debut
of Hans W. GeissendŲrfer, whose subsequent directorial career has been a
rich and varied one. JONATHAN remains his best-known film, yet is
paradoxically quite obscure outside its native Germany, having never
received a home video release of any sort in the English speaking world.
In 18th Century Germany a vampire count
resides in a castle with a retinue of bloodsucking acolytes. An
anti-vampire crusader calls a clandestine meeting amid the residents of
an adjacent village; at the meeting a young man named Jonathan is
selected to travel to the Countís castle and put an end to the vampiresí
reign. Jonathan sets off in a horse-bound coach, leaving behind his
sweetheart--who that very night is bitten by a vampire in her bed, thus
becoming a bloodsucker herself.
As for Jonathan, his coach is waylaid by the Countís
vampire goons before he reaches his destination. In the tumult
Jonathanís belongings are stolen by an individual who gives them to an
urchin woman in exchange for food.
Continuing on foot, Jonathan makes his way into an
impoverished village whose inhabitants initially greet him by hurling
rocks. Despite his determination to find the Count, Jonathan winds up
settling down for a time with the aforementioned urchin babe, who proves
extremely comely from a sexual standpoint.
Eventually Jonathan reaches the Countís castle and, as
instructed, settles down within. All seems to be going well until heís
caught inciting an uprising against the count, and so is chained up and
tortured mercilessly. Not to worry, though, because the fed-up villagers
have banded together and are ready to give the Count what-forÖ
I say this film is too arty and obscure for its own
good (the presence of a young girl chorus in many scenes is a particular
annoyance). What gives JONATHAN its spark arenít the stylistic quirks--Geissendorfer
is especially partial to elaborate panning shots through cramped
interiors and moments of extreme quiet broken by noisy music cues--but
its fully rounded depiction of a vampire community, set largely in a
rural working class setting leagues removed from the suffocating
opulence of so many traditional vampire tales.
JONATHAN is credited as an adaptation of DRACULA, but
in truth the connections between the two are extremely tenuous. The
narrative is spare and dreamlike, with little in the way of dramatic
urgency, or even continuity. The problems are compounded by the fact
that the titular vampire hunting hero is a personality-free nonentity
whose behavior is wildly inconsistent. Far more interesting are the
vampires, who arenít much better drawn but have a real air of
strangeness and mystery.
The film is of course a metaphor for the outrages of
the Third Reich (hence the otherwise gratuitous torture and bloodletting
of the final third), which is part of the problem. Geissendorfer appears
to have expended an excess amount of energy fitting the material into
his metaphoric framework (the filmís vampire Count is made up and
outfitted like a mustache-less Adolph Hitler), which doesnít entirely
work anyway. The film, after all, ends with the village people banding
together and getting rid of their corrupt overlords, which in regards to
Germany in WWII is not what happened.
Iduna Film Produktiongesellschaft/Obelisk Film/Telepool
Director: Hans W. Geissendorfer
Producer: Hellmut Haffner
Screenplay: Hans W. Geissendorfer
(Based--extremely loosely--on a novel by Bram Stoker)
Cinematography: Robby Muller
Editing: Wolfgang Hedinger
Cast: Jurgen Jung, Hans Dieter Jendreyko, Paul Albert Krumm, Hertha von
Walther, Oskar von Schab, Ilona Grubel, Sophoe Strehlow, Gaby Herbst,
Henry Liposca, Christine Ratej, Arthur Brauss