Parsifal (1983) 2 x DVD5
Syberberg’s film may be the most elaborately executed filmed opera in cinematic history. The sinuous plot of Wagner’s source focuses on King Amfortas, leader of the Knights of the Grail, who has been wounded in battle by the very spear that had pierced Christ’s side. No medicine can heal the wound. Amfortas sends a young man, Parsifal, who had thoughtlessly killed a swan, to retrieve the spear from Klingsor, a dark magician banned from the kingdom, who uses his garden of pleasures to seduce anyone trying to retrieve the spear.

2 x DVD5 | NTSC 4:3 | 03:01:18 + 01:13:43
4.37 Gb + 4.21 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Deutsch (Dolby AC3, 2 ch)
Subtitles: English hardcoded
Genre: Drama, Music

Director: Hans-Jurgen Syberberg
Cast: Armin Jordan, Martin Sperr, Robert Lloyd, Michael Kutter, Karin Krick, Aage Haugland
Country: France, West Germany

Parsifal is a controversial work that lends itself to a multiplicity of interpretations. Wagner had drawn on a wealth of cultural and historical influences, primarily Christian and Arthurian myths, to create this sweeping opera. Hans-Jurgen Syberberg does the same and provides provocative imagery in adapting the opera for the screen. The result is a masterpiece of conflicting emotional, ideological, and spiritual states. While certainly not an easy viewing experience (clocking in at a little under four and a half hours), the film provides vivid imagery and a dynamic cinematic experience for all who allow themselves to be swept up by it.

Parsifal was Wagner’s last opera and perhaps his most ambitious. Joseph Goebbels and Adolph Hitler, whose association with Wagner’s work is infamous, banned the performance of the opera in 1939. There has been much controversial discussion as to why Hitler and Goebbels imposed this ban. Some argue that the opera’s message of pacifism and its promotion of the Christian ideal of suffering ran counter to the ideologies of the Third Reich. Syberberg has referred to Hitler as “the bitter flower of German irrationalism”, and much of the film version of Parsifal, like much of Syberberg’s work, is intent on exploring the romantic and irrational in German history and culture, aspects or ideas which had been demonised in the aftermath of the Third Reich.

As well as being a fascinating instance of Syberberg’s cultural criticism, the film is also interesting stylistically. It is, at times, extraordinarily trying because of its overly meticulous attention to detail, as well as its cautious pacing. However, Wagner’s work is vast and sweeping, and Syberberg stays true to the composer’s vision. The director provides a faithful adaptation of the opera to the screen, while using various cinematic and theatrical techniques to find relevance and universality in the work. For example, he uses marionettes, superimpositions, and images of historical events to give the film greater depth.

Related posts:

  1. Winifred Wagner und die Geschichte des Hauses Wahnfried von 1914-1975 / The Confessions of Winifred Wagner (1977) 2 x DVD9
  2. Richard Wagner – Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen / Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes (2010) 2 x DVD9
  3. Hans Westmar. Einer von vielen. Ein deutsches Schicksal aus dem Jahre 1929 / Hans Westmar: One of Many A German Destiny from the year 1929 (1933) DVD9
  4. Hitler / Women of Nazi Germany (1962) DVD5
  5. Die Teufel von Loudun / The Devils of Loudun (1969) DVD9