When a big blockbuster of a film gets released, it is quite often common practice that the other studios will usually just get out of the way and look for a weekend where they have a chance of pulling a better box office number. However, it does mean that there is plenty of room for counter-programming in a city with a ton of screens. The Wagner Files is pulled straight from German television screens for a somewhat abstract, but kind of compelling look at the life of this controversial composer.
The Wagner Files is the kind of film that goes with and against the conventions of filmmaking all at the same time as German filmmaker Ralf Pleger brings the complex and controversial life of composer Richard Wagner to the screen using aerial photography, animation, expert testimony and recreations set in the world of 1940s and 50s melodramas.
Originally an episode of a series called Die Kulturakte (The Cultural Record), which is something that would be easily comparable to a show on the History Channel here in Canada, the film is admittedly a little weird as it uses some fairly avant garde methods in certain scenes as it tells the man’s life story. That being said, it kind of works and writer/director Ralf Pleger mixes together a plethora of different styles that succeed in keeping us engaged.
It does have dull moments of talking heads reciting facts, but when it cuts to a recreation it sets us on our ears just a little bit as this documentary has turned into a docu-drama. I’m the first to admit that this style can get a little overwhelming at times but it at least allows for anyone who isn’t 100% interested or even up to date on the subject material to get somewhat engaged with the story that they are trying to tell. And while the direction does tend to float a little all over the map, it is a very well structured and technically sound film that actually looks pretty damn good, going a little beyond the standard historical documentary about a subject and trying to infuse it with some elements of entertainment.
If you’re not interested in the life of Richard Wagner then this film probably won’t do anything for you, but for anyone with a passing interest in German composers and willing to take a chance, The Wagner Files might be worth a chance.
The Wagner Files is playing exclusively at the Carlton Cinemas in Toronto. It opens in Vancouver on Dec 20.
Rating: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)