Colonel Redl (1985): Istvan Szabo Oscar-Nominated Biopic, Starring German Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer

The second film in the trilogy made by Hungarian director Istvan Szabo and German actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, Colonel Redl is a solid biopic, though not as powerful or richly detailed as their first collaboration in the Oscar winning “Mephisto.”

Penned by Szabo and Peter Dobal, the script is partially based on John Osborne’s play, “A Patriot for Me.”

Brandauer plays Colonel Alfred Redl, an ambitious, highly placed military officer in the pre-WWI in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, who is driven to spying and treason in order to conceal two basic facts, that he is Jewish and homosexual.

As in “Mephisto,” Szabo is interested in examining the impact of political and historical forces on the personality formation of influential figures; the third panel in the trilogy is the biopic “Hanussen.”

Signs of a troubled psychology are revealed early on, in a military school, when Redl is forced to inform on a student in a military school who’s the source of a practical joke.

Though guilt-ridden, he is smart and practical enough to realize that in order to succeed in the Army he needs to overcome his poor and provincial social origins and hides his deviant sexuality.  However, his goal to be accepted into the ranks of the Upper Classes proves to be his downfall, when an agent of the Czar threatens to expose his double identity.

Rising in rank, he is appointed as the Chief of Military Intelligence for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and continues to live under fear and anxiety that at any moment he might be exposed.

Brandauer renders a dominant performance as the greedy and ambitious yet self-loathing Redl.  In the same year that “Colonel Redl” was released, Brandauer also excelled in the Oscar-winning “Out of Africa,” in which he played Meryl Streep’s husband; he received a Supporting Actor nomination for that role.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

Oscar awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar was the Argentinean political drama, The Official Story.

Running time: 144 Minutes