Director defends his Hitler comedy film
Community leaders in Germany describe new box-office smash as ‘dangerous’ for Jews
GERMAN JEWISH leaders have slammed Dani Levy’s unlikely hit comedy about Adolf Hitler, Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler, as “dangerous”. His own mother warned him not to come running if things went badly. Now, with his lowbudget film a surprise box-office hit in Germany, Mr Levy is on the defensive against those who find the film goes too far, or not far enough.
“It is not just a comedy,” Swiss-born Mr Levy told the JC in an exclusive interview. The serious nature of his subject matter, he claimed, made the film daring and risky so that it “really creates a close encounter”.
Cinema critics — and even the actor who plays Hitler, Helge Schneider — have cast doubts on how funny the film actually is. Others have gone even further in criticising the film, which opened on January 11.
“Levy is guilty of gross negligence,” insisted Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “The film is superficial, superfluous and even dangerous,” he wrote in Die Zeit newspaper. “In light of the fact that the Nazis killed millions of people, I can’t laugh about it.”
“I am humanizing him [Hitler], but I don’t excuse him,” Mr Levy told the JC. “It is important to… understand what [Hitler] represented for his time… Hitler could not, as a dictator, rule the world or create such great destruction [alone]. He needed hundreds, thousands of people who helped.”
Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler depicts Hitler as a broken, pitiable figure who hires a Jewish actor to help him regain his political and sexual potency. Imagine Hitler on all fours, barking like a dog, on the command of his Jewish coach, or in the bath, raising his arm in a Hitler salute. Picture him wetting his bed, or trying unsuccessfully to bed his Fraülein. All together, Hitler comes off as a sad buffoon. It is a kind of revenge of humiliation.
The 49-year-old director, who lives in Berlin, told the JC he never intended to present an historically accurate film, but rather to use a typically Jewish approach of humour and analysis to deconstruct the Nazi psyche.
Mr Levy — whose mother escaped Nazi Germany into Switzerland — said he was inspired to make the film in part because of the publication in 2003 of the diary of actor and singer Paul Devrient, who coached Hitler in oratorical skills.
“This is a really comic and absurd and interesting inspiration for comedy — that Adolf Hitler had a teacher,” Mr Levy said. “So he was not the god of everything: he needed help.”
But more profoundly, Mr Levy said he has always had “very painful questions” about how Hitler could have achieved his monstrous crimes.
He said it was always difficult to “imagine that SA [stormtroopers] would walk around and pull people out of cafés and houses and beat them in the streets and torture them and put them on trucks and deport them.”
The average German saw what was going on. “It was a public action, they were not just beamed away traceless… So for years I was interested in understanding that public consciousness.”
To probe that consciousness, Mr Levy applied what he called “a Jewish approach”.
“Aren’t we responsible for psychoanalysis and Jewish humour, trying to understand human psychology? It’s not God who dictated National Socialism. It was human beings,” he said.
Thus, he suggested, it is important to look at Hitler and others as people, not monsters. But it is not always necessary to take a didactic approach.
Films such as Oliver Hirschbiegel’s The Downfall, which unfolds in the last days of Hitler’s bunker, “are pretending they are telling the real truth”. And the public is “supposed to swallow it”.
“And Mein Führer is the other way around. I am trying to make people insecure, to provoke questions, so people will be thinking. I don’t want to feed them with something called reality.”
In the climactic conclusion, Mr Levy — playing with the German word “Heil”, which means both “hail” and “heal” — has the dictator begging to be healed, and the German people responding in kind. Do the German people still need healing? “I think Germans have learned a lesson and that this country is very mature. But there are unhealed people, and there will be chronic antisemites and racists and other idiots.
“On the optimistic [side], I can tolerate living here and I can call Germany my Heimat, my homeland, because I feel that there is an understanding between German people and Jews… that create a mutual culture.”
Mein Führerfeatures scenes showing Adolf Hitler giving the Nazi salute from his bath