Di­rec­tor de­fends his Hitler com­edy film

Com­mu­nity lead­ers in Ger­many de­scribe new box-of­fice smash as ‘dan­ger­ous’ for Jews

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - FROM TOBY AX­EL­ROD, BER­LIN

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.