Young Törless (1966): Volker (“The Tin Drum”) Schlöndorff’s Intense, Homoerotic Drama (Cannes Fest)

Volker Schlöndorff directed Young Törless (German: Der junge Törless) a German drama adapted from the autobiographical novel “The Confusions of Young Törless” by Robert Musil.

Young Törless
Young Torless poster.jpg

Set in the early part of the twentieth century, it deals with the violent (even sadistic) and homoerotic tendencies of a group of boys at an Austrian military academy.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Thomas Törless (Mathieu Carrière) arrives at the academy.

He soon learns how Anselm von Basini (Marian Seidowsky) was caught stealing by fellow student Reiting (Fred Dietz).

Basini is obliged to become Reiting’s “slave,” bowing to his sadistic rituals. Törless follows their relationship with intellectual interest but without emotional involvement.

Beineberg (Bernd Tischer) and Törless visit Bozena (Barbara Steele), the local prostitute. Törless more intrigued than excited by the woman.

He is however very eager to understand imaginary numbers, which are mentioned in his maths lesson. The maths teacher is unwilling or unable to explain what these are, stating that in life, emotion is what rules everything – even mathematics.

After Basini is humiliated and suspended upside down in the school gym because of one of Reiting’s intrigues, Törless realises intellectually that the other boys are simply cruel. He seems no more or less emotionally moved by this than by the revelation that he cannot understand imaginary numbers. He decides that he does not want to partake in cruelty, so decides to leave the academy. His teachers think that he is too “highly strung” for his own good, and do not want him to stay anyway – they are part of the system which can allow such terrible things to be done to the weak and vulnerable.

At the end of the film, Törless is dismissed from the school and leaves smiling with his mother

The film benefits from the haunting medieval-sounding score by Hans Werner Henze, the German modernist composer.

Henze’s left-political activism drove him to expatriation from Germany.

He later arranged a suite from the original score, entitled Fantasia for Strings.

Critical Status:

Young Törless was screened on May 9, 1966 at the Cannes Film Fest, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize.

It was also selected as the German entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 39th Academy Awards, but was not nominated.

Mathieu Carrière – Thomas Törless
Marian Seidowsky – Anselm von Basini
Bernd Tischer – Beineberg
Fred Dietz – Reiting
Lotte Ledl – Gastwirtin / Innkeeper
Jean Launay – Mathematiklehrer / Maths Teacher
Barbara Steele – Bozena


Directed, written by Volker Schlöndorff
Cinematography Franz Rath
Edited by Claus von Boro
Music by Hans Werner Henze

Production companies: Franz Seitz Filmproduktion
Nouvelles Éditions de Films S.A.

Distributed by Nora Filmverleih

Release date: May 9, 1966 (Cannes Fest)

Running time: 87 minutes

TCM showed the film on November 3, 2021.