The second film in the trilogy made by director Istvan Szabo and actor Klaus Maria Brandauer -- hammocked between Mephisto and Hanussen -- Colonel Redl continues Mephisto's fascination with a man overwhelmed by history. In that film, Brandauer played an actor who tried to ignore the rise of the Third Reich, and here he's an ambitious military officer in pre-World War I Austria whose career path is set early on. In military school, he's forced to inform on a student who's the source of a practical joke; though he beats himself up for being a Judas, he soon realizes that to rise in the ranks he must overcome his peasant background and hide his homosexuality by ingratiating himself with his superiors. In time, he becomes Chief of Military Intelligence for the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Though he professes to hate politics and politicians, Redl also can't avoid them. When the leader for whom Redl is supposedly spying among the officer corps, draws up a list of who can't be exposed for traitorous activities (including Austrian nobles, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Croatians, and even the usual scapegoats, Jews -- the aftershocks of the Dreyfuss affair are still rumbling), he tells Redl that he must find a double of himself, a Ukrainian. Now certain that he will be exposed, Redl surrenders to fate, quoting to his wife from Montaigne: "It's no sin to be involved. It's a sin to remain involved." Brandauer is a wonder as the self-loathing Redl, and Szabo's camera picks up every nuance on his expressive face. The film eschews music except for several party scenes, and the absence of a score is most effective in the final shots of Redl's fellow officers awaiting his fate.