Review: Krabat (the movie)


After having read the book (two times now), and hearing the auditory interpretation of this story by Asp, there comes another interpretation, this time a visual interpretation by Marco Kreuzpainter, in a German movie production with some of the most famous German actors. If you take a look at the official website of the movie, you get an (in my opinion) interesting feeling about the movie. Beside, I am a fan of the book and the story. So I really was looking forward to the day, this movie would reach our cinemas, and finally today I was able to watch it with my girlfriend. Here I would like to give you a summary of the story, as well as my impressions of the movie.

Introduction

First of all, for all you out there, who didn’t hear of Krabat before: Krabat actually is a folk saga of the sorbs (a minority in Germany) and the earliest version can be dated to the 17th century. Until then the saga went through major changes, but some aspects always stayed the same (the mill, the black magic, and the setting in Schwarzkolm, Hoyerswerda, which really exists in the eastern part of Saxony). The most famous version is similar to the written/filmed one, but also here there are still some major differences (e.g. like Krabat not being called by the master but finding the mill by accident, and being saved by his mother, instead of by the love of a girl, etc.).
Interestingly even the person Krabat seems to be real person, a warlord who got some land in front of Hoyerswerda for his earnings in the war. The name Krabat is said to be meant “The man from Croatia” as this man came from there.
Although there where many other writers, who where producing literature using this saga (e.g. Jurij Brezan), our famous version is the result of the book from Ottfried Preußler a famous German children book author, who wrote the book “Krabat” in 1971. Beside, there where also two movies made, long before. One of them, “Die Schwarze Mühle” uses a version of Brezans, the other one is a cartoon, after the book of Preußler. Both where produced in the ‘70s?
In Ottfried Preußlers version, Krabat is a trainee at a mill which is operated by an evil black magician. While in the mornings the trainees are grinding corn, at nights they are turned into crows by the master, who then teaches them powerful magic spells, that enables them to move things, turn into animals, and even leave their body. At new moon nights an even more evil and powerful person comes with a wagon full of teeth that need to be grinded. While outside the mill the life goes on as normal, in the mill every year equals three years. After each year one of the trainees has to die and another one takes his place. During the rest of the year the boys have a lot of adventures, fooling people with their tricks, or even riding in a magic carriage that flies and brings them to famous politicians in no time.
While in the beginning Krabat is astonished by the powers of the master and wants to be as powerful as the master, he finally realizes that he is a slave, living a captive live at the mill. Only the love of a girl can free him and all the other trainees – but if that ever happens, everything is destroyed and with it all the evil powers would be gone forever.
This book is full of moral questions, like what is more important, friendship or (evil) knowledge? Freedom or power? And is love really stronger than any evil power?

The Movie

The movie starts with a narrator telling us about the Thirty Years’ War, in which Germany was at that time. We then see the three poor boys in their costumes of the holy three kings, in which they went begging. But actually we never see them begging – they are climbing a huge mountain (I somehow was reminded by The Lord of the Rings), and slept in an empty shed that was there, lonely and forgotten up on the mountains.

Then we hear about Krabats dreams, and the next day he finally leaves the group, walking a much longer way over mountains until finally he reaches the old mill, and is greeted by the old miller, who makes a really friendly impression, like an uncle, maybe. He accepts the traineeship at the mill and goes to bed right away. Until then there are no major changes to the book, Krabat meets the other eleven trainees at night, he has huge difficulties while the others manage everything quite easily. Then there is the Easter night where Krabat and Tonda go to “Bäumels Tod” to spend the night at, and here come the first changes. In the movie, Tonda takes Krabat and leaves his body with him, so they can go to Schwarzkolm where they meet the Kantorka and also Tondas girlfriend. Though Tonda warns Krabat, to not touch anybody, Krabat catches the Kantorka and there is some kind of connection between them. Then Tonda starts speaking to his girlfriend, which can’t see, but hear him. Tonda warns Krabat to leave, as this is the last chance he’s got, but Krabat doesn’t want to.

In the movie the black magic lessons are first reduced to stick-fighting. The master gives each boy a stick with which they could defend themselves. During the next months (in fast motion) you can see the boys practicing with the sticks.

The next thing that happens is that soldiers are on the way to Schwarzkolm. As the miller fears, that after taking in Schwarzkolm those soldiers would also stand in front of his door, he sends out some of his trainees to protect Schwarzkolm. So those few boys get there and protect the city. First it seems that they are outgunned – but finally Krabat managed to enhance their sticks with magic power and soon those knights are beaten in a battle of special effects and camera styles known of from fighting scenes in movies like “Gladiator”.

While this happens, the master finds out the name of Tondas girl and kills her, and finally also Tonda has to die. Then Krabat and the others are turned into crows to find the next boy, to replace Tonda. As it turns out to be one of his former friends, who sees Krabat totally differently to the time where they where begging together, doubts arose within Krabat. He tries to flee, but finds out, that this is impossible. So, being sad and frustrated, and knowing that the master is superior to them, he still wants to fight the master, being disobedient and learning from Juro how to fight the master, who turns out to be a unbelieveable great magician himself. Breaking the power of the master can only be done by the love of the Kantorka, who has to bid the master for Krabat. But at the end, Krabat refuses to call the Kantorka out of fear to harm her, and rather prepares for his death.
In the movie it is Lyschko (the former evil spy of the master), who saves everybody by stealing the ring of hair from Krabat (which is the sign of trust for any envoy that gets to the Kantorka with messages from Krabat) and calling the Kantorka. He does that after he overheard a discussion of Krabat with the master, where the master offers Krabat to kill Lyschko instead of Hanzo, who took Tondas place as senior journeyman. Krabat refuses, though Lyschko was always bad to him (Lyschko in place of Krabat would surely had decided the other way).

My critics

Actually I was pretty disappointed by the movie, and I can’t even yet tell you totally, why. I guess the most important thing is, that the movie doesn’t manage to give you the feelings that the characters should feel. Somehow during the entire movie you have the expression that those guys are numb. Krabat finally shouts at the master and says “I hate you!” – But you would never have seen that feeling beforehand.

Also the master, in the book he is the mysterious, dangerous black magician, and out of fear everybody obeys him. Though Krabat admires him at the beginning, the master on the other hand doesn’t treat Krabat well. In the movie on the other hand, the master seems to be a nice old man, who doesn’t have that fear driven authority.

The scene with the stick fight, hell I don’t know how that should have done any good to the atmosphere. In the book, the 12 boys of the mill are strangers; the villagers fear them, as they practice black magic, and as the mill and his master don’t bring any good to the people. In the movie though, they are celebrated as heroes. When they arrive, nobody fears them, they are welcome to help.
The fight with the soldiers – well, it would have rather fitted to the Matrix, then to anything else.

And strangely everybody accepts that those 12 boys where doing magic. No one ever asked how it could be possible. The Kantorka didn’t when Krabat touches her the first time, nor Krabat, when he realizes, what the master and all the other trainees are capable of doing, nor does any of the villagers. Everything seems as taken for granted. Even the gaffer, that comes every new moon to get his bones is taken for granted – Krabat doesn’t really ask, or try to get behind the secret.

So all in all, the magic, that the book has, and the darkness, all the secrets that are unsolved, the fear, the feelings of the boys, the frustration, even the love to the Kantorka, as well as the deep friendship between Krabat and Tonda and later Krabat and Juro, the frustration… everything’s gone in the movie.
So what’s left is a movie that consist of a sequence of actions, which you see, some of them maybe a little exciting, some of them a little sad – but all in all the movie is pretty emotionless, no character evolvement, no relationships that evolve, build up. No quiet scenes, where people grieve, think, love, fear. No feelings at all. Even the love between Krabat and the Kantorka – they say, that they are in love – but you really don’t get it.

In my opinion also some of the locations where pretty inappropriate. The snowy mountains at the beginning, as well as the other mountains with all the trees – they seem to be a cheap adaption of the landscape pictures of The Lord of the Rings.

The End is somehow strange – as the master, the almighty master, who always feared the girls, and made sure that no girl manages to get to him by killing her beforehand, does not understand, what is happening and that his power is broken and the mill ready to explode, after the Kantorka picked Krabat out of the crows.

I think it would have been great to leave out the fighting scene – I mean I cannot see any sense in that. It doesn’t enhance the story, doesn’t add anything to it. For me it just seemed like a possibility to add some recent special effects, but those are, in my opinion, even worsening the atmosphere and are totally misplaced in that movie. Instead some more silent moments, some pauses, some scenes where emotions develop and the atmosphere would have had time to come up. Also more scenes with the Kantorka could have made sure that the love story was actually believable for the audience.

Besides I would have loved to see one or another scene of the book, where they trick the villagers, and I was especially exited about the trip with the flying carriage. This would have added some magic to the movie and even more secrets, about who the master is, how he got his contacts, and what his intentions are. But all of this parts where totally left out in the movie.

On the other side, what I actually liked, was the stage setting. Though it was nothing like I would have imagined it (especially considering the dark atmosphere that the black mill should have sent out), it was a great setting. The boys where always dirty, dusty, sweaty. The wounds, the blood, the hair, everything fitted. Also all the accessories, the beds, the spoons, the clothes – all the little details – this rustically used look – everything fitted perfectly and produced a really nice, atmosphere.
But it just wasn’t the right atmosphere, people who read the book would expect.

Also the actors weren’t that bad (except for the problems mentioned above). They played their roles quite authentically.

I know that a movie adaption of a book is always difficult, as you have a given frame, with not much room to play, and as the story is known beforehand the movie director does not have many possibilities to surprise the audience. Also everybody has an image in head, and to really project that image on the screen is a really difficult task.

But still, I think that you can forgive someone who doesn’t totally stick to the book – as long as the feelings, the atmosphere and the relationships and characters are kept. And that is what I really miss, and what other movie adoptions, like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter manage so much better than this movie.

So all in all I rather stick to the acoustic interpretation of Asp. Sadly 😦

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