"Fame is the preservation of the natural human instinct for validation and attention," the English playwright Heathcote Williams noted when describing the psychic impoverishment fame creates. In Hamburg, Germany, a young actor, Hendrik Hofgren (Klaus Maria Brandauer) can only yearn for success. By day, he practices his craft and by night, he makes love with Juliette (Karin Boyd), a black dancer who teaches him movement. While the Nazis are on the rise in Berlin, Hendrik marries the daughter of the man in charge of the State Theatre. His leftist friends protest the growing power of Hitler in the early 1930s, but none of that matters to Hendrik. The young actor achieves the dream of a lifetime when he receives the role of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust.

Istvan Szabo's Mephisto recently won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is based on Klaus Mann's 1936 novel, which tells the very dramatic story of a man willing to sell his soul to the Nazis in order to continue his art.

Hofgren's wife and father-in-law flee to Paris along with other artists to avoid the Third Reich. Lotte, an actress close to those now in power, convinces Hofgren to find a place for himself in the new Germany. An artistically inclined General (Rolf Hoppe) becomes the actor's patron and confidant. Hofgren, the chameleon, survives and eventually is appointed to head of the State Theatre. But power and success come at a high price; his is compelled to skate on very thin ice. The quirky General holds Hendrik's fate in his hands.

Mephisto is carried very well by the intensity of Klaus Maria Brandauer's performance. The film is a powerful parable about fame as a disease of the spirit. Hofgren, in the last scenes, is well-known but isolated. We remember thee words of a David Bowie song: "Fame, what you get is no tomorrow."