Back in the 1990s a VHS copy of Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum kicked around the foreign film section of my local video store, but for the longest time I didn’t rent it. The picture on the box showed the film’s protagonist Oskar (David Bennant) banging on a drum and looking demented. I knew that you shouldn’t judge a videotape by its cover; all the same, I never seemed to be in the mood to see a movie in which a kid banged on a drum while looking demented, and so I avoided it.
The joke was on me, of course. Volker Schlondorff didn’t suffer from my rejection, I did. The truth is, no cover art could capture the mood of this brilliant and vaguely surreal film.
The Tin Drum takes place in Danzig in the years leading up to World War II. Young Oskar is born with an unnatural gift: from the moment of his birth he is keenly intelligent and self-aware. On his third birthday he is given a tin drum as a gift, which he greatly treasures. On that same day, baffled by the chaotic world of adults, he decides to stop growing (a feat he accomplishes by throwing himself down a flight of stairs). Oskar’s mother Agnes (Angela Winkler) is married, but carries on an affair with her cousin Jan Bronski (Daniel Olbrychski); she later commits suicide by eating too many fish. Meanwhile, the Nazi movement grows from a few ridiculous characters parading around town to a sinister, unstoppable force that drags all of Europe into a devastating war.
Like the VHS box in that long-gone video store, the above description doesn’t do the film justice. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. Harrowing and enigmatic, brutal and mordantly funny, The Tin Drum won the Palm D’Or at Cannes as well as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1979. This is a beautifully restored DCP version that puts any VHS copy in your possession to shame. — Michael Popham
THE TIN DRUM screens Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25 at 7:00, and Sunday, April 26 at 5:00 and 8:15, at the Trylon. You can purchase advance tickets here.