HANS-JURGEN SYBERBERG, a curiosity of New German cinema, seeks the Holy Grail in "Parsifal," Wagner's most intense opera -- and his longest, at nearly four hours.
Syberberg's version is not a film recording of a standard performance, nor is it a union of operatic and cinematic forms. Make no mistake, this is nothing like "Bizet's Carmen." It is undiluted egotism. Syberberg has infested this work -- which in no way benefits from its translation to film -- with obtuse premonitions and a gloomy preoccupation with the mysticism of Nazism.
The opera is a complex tale of Parsifal, a virtuous young amnesiac; the knights of the grail; and the witch Kundry who waylays them. In this version much of it is set inside a cracked death mask -- Wagner's. Sometimes the action takes place beside a huge smoking jacket with stars showing through the collar.
The performers -- except for the bizarre but entrancing Edith Clever as Kundry -- are sometimes googly-eyed but usually static. The tacky sets are littered with shredded plastic, and, worst of all, the parts are lip-synched. The soundtrack itself was performed by the Prague Philharmonic Choir and the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Ludicrously, not one but two people mime the part of Parsifal. They are Michael Kutter and Karen Krick, a young couple the director met one evening at dinner with some friends in Switzerland. They knew only a little about music, nothing about Wagner and were not actors, so Syberberg hired them.
Sometimes Kutter plays Parsifal, sometimes Krick does, sometimes they both do. As a result, Wagner's complicated premise becomes virtually indecipherable. And what Siberberg imagines is his very free, very Bohemian breakthrough is in truth just plain ratty filmmaking and self-indulgence. PARSIFAL -- At the MacArthur exclusively for one week only.