The Tin Drum (German: Die Blechtrommel) is a 1979 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Günter Grass. It was directed and co-written by Volker Schlöndorff. Stylistically it is a black comedy. The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film begins in 1899, with the grandfather of Oskar Matzerath, the main character, being pursued by the police through rural Kashubia. Hiding underneath the skirts of a young woman named Anna Bronski, whom he later marries and conceives a daughter - Oskar's mother - with, he evades the authorities until he drowns trying to escape them. As time goes by, Anna's daughter Agnes develops an incestuous affair with her cousin Jan Bronski, a worker in the Polish Post Office, until she is introduced to the charismatic Alfred Matzerath while serving as a nurse during World War I. The two men become firm friends, albeit love rivals, and later Agnes gives birth to a son, Oskar. Oskar has an adult mentality since birth and upon hearing from Alfred that he will inherit his grocery shop when he is an adult, he decides to stop growing by the age of three.
The Tin Drum is one of cinema’s greatest coming of age stories — probably because its star, Oskar, never comes of age, literally.
Oskar (David Bennett) is a young lad in 1920s Germany, and at the age of three he realizes that as he gets older, the attention he’s given will rapidly wane. He decides to quit growing and hurls himself down the cellar. He achieves his goal. Ten years later, Hitler is on the rise, and Oskar is still romping around with his precious tin drum, physically unchanged since that day but deeply affected by life experience nonetheless.
Oskar’s story touches on so many facets of life it’s hard to know where to start analyzing. His mom is having an affair, he’s got a crush on a (much) taller girl, and of course the Nazis are coming. The last half of the film gets a little pokey and metaphysical, but Volker Schlöndorff’s masterpiece isn’t much impacted by it. Nothing Schlöndorff has touched before or since has reached such mastery — reaching down into your gut and stirring up all manner of emotions. Bennent (actually 13 years old at the time of release, a long way from three), is a German national treasure: The Tin Drum was his first film, and he has worked little since then (you may remember him in hooves in Legend). It’s amazing he didn’t win more noteriety or awards for his work here.
It’s also a pity that the film was infamously banned in Oklahoma after its release (there is a scene or two of a child’s bare bottom, prompting the D.A. to deem it child pornography), depriving many of seeing it but adding immeasurably to its notariety.
Now available on a long-awaiting Criterion Collection DVD, The Tin Drum is getting the attention it richly deserves with two discs of goodies waiting for the viewer to dig into. Schlöndorff offers his own commentary track on disc one, and the second disc includes deleted scenes, a selection of interviews, and a Gunther Grass reading from 1987. The documentary Banned in Oklahoma outlines Drum‘s censorships problems in detail.
Aka Die Blechtrommel.