Excerpted from Hans-Bernhard Moeller and George Lellis’ VolkerSchlöndorff’sCinema: Adaptation, Politics, andthe “Movie-Appropriate.
Despite its modest claims, Volker Schlöndorff’s twelfth film, CoupdeGrâce (DerFangschuss, 1976), can be considered a jewel among his creations. Adapted from Marguerite Yourcenar’s novel by the same title, this film brings the 1920s heritage to life, thanks to quilted jackets, frozen landscapes, impersonal firing squads, uniformed soldiers folk dancing at war-ravaged estates: images, sound, and texture evocative of revolutionary Russia. In addition, actress Valeska Gert, 1920s exponent of avant-garde pantomime, expressionist dance, and women’s liberation, graces the screen in one of her final performances, as Aunt Praskovia. It marks, at the same time, Schlöndorff’s return to and recapitulation of his own cinematic methods from YoungTörless (1966) and TheSuddenWealthofPoorPeopleofKombach (1971). It presents Margarethe von Trotta, here also Schlöndorff’s screenwriter, in some of her most convincing scenes as an actress. It carries on the portrayal of rebel women in the line of AFreeWoman (1972) and TheLostHonorofKatharinaBlum (1975), though in more spartan visual style. In all its simplicity, this is a key work by a pivotal literary filmmaker of Young and New German cinemas.
CoupdeGrâce places the reader or viewer in conditions of near-civil war that raged in the Baltic provinces near Riga in the early twenties. Radical Bolsheviks, Estonian and Latvian nationalists, German junkers, and White Russians, as well as fortune hunters and volunteer militias, attack each other. One reactionary stronghold is the castle Kratovice, ancestral home of Konrad von Reval (Rüdiger Kirschstein), who returns as an officer and finds his sister Sophie (Margarethe von Trotta). She falls in love with his comrade Erich von Lhomond (Matthias Habich), also a childhood friend, from whose masculine point of view Yourcenar’s novel is written. She politically sympathizes with village Bolsheviks, but when Erich does not return her love, she moves to the communist camp.
Schlöndorff has, in fact, reconfigured the point of view within the narrative situation: as the material changes from book form to the film medium, Sophie turns into Erich’s co-protagonist. This change proves useful to Schlöndorff’s personal set of themes, since instead of an officer and his memories, a woman moves to the forefront along with the conflicts of her emotions, her epoch, and her environment.
In the adaptation process, Schlöndorff has set up an unusual narrative structure. On one hand, he is taking a book that features a male point of view and evokes the genre of the war film––a genre usually characterized by a male point of view. On the other hand, the shift away from a first-person male narrator represents here a subverting of the war film’s usual masculine perspective.
Schlöndorff’s film develops its love-story narrative in parallel to its war-film narrative. In CoupdeGrâce, Sophie’s intertwined expectations for meaningful relationships, personal happiness, and sexual fulfillment are at odds with the largely male-created universe of militarism. Schlöndorff creates a world of intimacy without sex, of sex without intimacy, and of both without happiness. In terms of film genre, the movie asks whether the traditionally configured love story can survive if the woman seeks to be the man’s equal and strives to propagate values counter to repressive masculine ones. Sophie is open, while Erich clings to orthodox formalities and appearances. She is self-disclosing, Erich evasive and even duplicitous. We are never sure whether his feelings for the contessa are sexual, fraternal, or controllingly paternalistic. This ambiguity throws audience identification onto the side of Sophie.
One particular leitmotif of the film’s indirect narrative technique draws attention to political aspects. It cinematically establishes a close link between the contessa and a captured rebel. The latter is not present in Yourcenar’s novel and thus becomes a cinema-specific addition that multiplies meanings through visual echoes and parallels. Both characters are interrogated by Erich in a way that may suggest Schlöndorff’s German point of view. Both are executed according to martial laws. Understood in a broader sense, the film actually offers two “coups de grâce.” In both cases, the business of the execution is cold and efficient; the executioners have little time. Nor does the camera allow the viewer much chance to sympathize, because both “coups de grâce” are photographed from a distance. Both times, executioners shamelessly leave corpses behind, like piles of trash.
Such touches caused a number of critics to comment on the more reserved, artistically quieter approach of CoupdeGrâce. In NewGermanFilm, Timothy Corrigan positions the work as inferior to films that are more directly subversive. But Corrigan’s analysis misses many of the ways in which Schlöndorff provokes activated viewing and audience reflection. One can argue that Schlöndorff assembles an array of alienating strategies that operate subtly and scrape against the grain of a superficially realist narrative. This movie’s narrative contains many gaps and ellipses, as well as many places where, with characterizations developed only through externalized behavior, motivation is implicit or ambiguous; all of these require an alert viewer to fill in what is missing.
In her introduction to the CoupdeGrâce novel, Marguerite Yourcenar insists that her intentions were not to side with any political group or party but rather to present a “study in character and emotion.” Schlöndorff achieves something different. Although it is clear that his political sympathies are not anti-Bolshevik, he never establishes whether his drama should be interpreted personally or politically and so challenges the viewer to resolve the tension between the two. It is clear that conflicts between the sexes, women’s themes, rebellion, and politics, as well as German history, offer points of contact between Schlöndorff’s film and Yourcenar’s novel. But what is most remarkable in Schlöndorff’s adaptation is the way in which, despite changes in structure and point of view, the two works remain strikingly aligned in mood, meaning, and final effect. Each shows an elegant crafting of its respective medium and a certain formal precision, and yet neither indulges in stylistic excess for its own sake. CoupdeGrâce brings Schlöndorff back to the qualities that first made him successful.
Volker Schlondorff’s Cinema: Adaptation, Politics, and the “Movie-Appropriate,” by Hans-Bernhard Moeller and George Lellis. ©2002 by the Board of Trustees, Southern Illinois University, reprinted by permission of the publisher.
The extended essay should be written in a clear, correct and formal academic style, appropriate to the subject from which the topic is drawn. Given that the extended essay is a formally written research paper, it should strive to maintain a professional, academic look.
To help achieve this, the following formatting is required:
- 12-point, readable font (Calibri or Times New Roman);
- double spacing throughout entire Essay;
- page numbering - top right corner;
- no candidate or school name or supervisor name on the title page or page headers.
Submitting the extended essay in the required format will help set the tone of the essay and will aid readability for on-screen assessment by examiners.
The structure of the essay is very important. It helps students to organize the argument, making the best use of the evidence collected.
There are six required elements of the final work to be submitted. More details about each element are given in the “Presentation” section. Please note that the order in which these elements are presented here is not necessarily the order in which they should be written.
Six required elements of the extended essay:
- Title page
- Contents page
- Body of the essay
- References and bibliography -- if MLA "Works Cited" if CSE "References"
1. Required Title Page
The title page should include only the following information:
- the title of the essay
- the research question
- the subject the essay is registered in (if it is a language essay also state which category it falls into; if a world studies essay also state the theme and the two subjects utilized)
- word count
The upper limit is 4,000 words for all extended essays.
Please note: Examiners are instructed not to read or assess any material in excess of the word limit. This means that essays containing more than 4,000 words will be compromised across all assessment criteria. Given the holistic nature of the assessment criteria, students who write in excess of the word limit will self-penalize across all criteria.
2. Required Contents Page
A contents page must be provided at the beginning of the extended essay and all pages should be numbered. Please note that an index page is not required and if included will be treated as if it is not present.
3. Required Introduction
The introduction should tell the reader what to expect in the essay. The introduction should make clear to the reader the focus of the essay, the scope of the research, in particular an indication of the sources to be used, and an insight into the line of argument to be taken.
While students should have a sense of the direction and key focus of their essay, it is sometimes advisable to finalize the introduction once the body of the essay is complete.
4. Required Body of the Essay (research, analysis, discussion, and evaluation)
The main task is writing the body of the essay, which should be presented in the form of a reasoned argument. The form of this varies with the subject of the essay but as the argument develops it should be clear to the reader what relevant evidence has been discovered, where/how it has been discovered and how it supports the argument. In some subjects, for example, the sciences, sub-headings within the main body of the essay will help the reader to understand the argument (and will also help the student to keep on track). In structuring their extended essay, students must take into consideration the expected conventions of the subject in which their extended essay is registered.
Once the main body of the essay is complete, it is possible to finalize the introduction (which tells the reader what to expect) and the conclusion (which says what has been achieved, including notes of any limitations and any questions that have not been resolved).
Any information that is important to the argument must not be included in appendices or footnotes/endnotes. The examiner will not read notes or appendices, so an essay that is not complete in itself will be compromised across the assessment criteria.
5. Required Conclusion
The conclusion says what has been achieved, including notes of any limitations and any questions that have not been resolved. While students might draw conclusions throughout the essay based on their findings, it is important that there is a final, summative conclusion at the end. This conclusion(s) must relate to the research question posed.
6. Required References & Bibliography
Students should use their chosen style of academic referencing as soon as they start writing. That way they are less likely to forget to include a citation. It is also easier than trying to add references at a later stage. For more information on this, refer to the guidelines in the IB document Effective citing and referencing.
Writing the essay takes time but if students have used their Researcher's reflection space and reflection sessions in a meaningful way they should be well prepared to develop their arguments.