The Spider’s Web

This 1989 German epic, directed by Bernhard Wicki and running 198 minutes, makes visible the kind of soulless opportunism that helped lead to Nazism. Set mostly in 1923, it centers on Lohse (Ulrich MŸhe), a former army lieutenant putting himself through law school by tutoring the son of a Jewish banker. Propositioned by an elderly prince, Lohse is revolted but has sex with him anyway in the hope of improving his situation, and he carries on an affair with the banker’s wife despite his professed anti-Semitism. The prince then draws Lohse into a secret nationalist organization led by a powerful baron (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Wicki provides rich period detail, and the relentless physicality of his images–sensual colors, shots that pivot dynamically around central figures–becomes almost mechanical, an appropriate expression of the characters’ frequent brutality. MŸhe’s powerful portrayal of Lohse as a rodentlike creature without an emotional center is consistent with the character’s self-serving actions; over the length of the film he becomes at once chilling and numbing. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, June 23, 6:00, 312-443-3737. –Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film.