13 Min­utes

13 MIN­UTES, his­tor­i­cal drama, rated R, in Ger­man with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

His­tory is sea­soned with what-ifs. A pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion se­ries, The Man in the High Cas­tle, spec­u­lates on a world in which the Axis pow­ers won World War II. Oliver Hirsch­biegel’s movie, rooted in fact rather than fan­tasy, looks at an event that, but for a nar­row mis­cal­cu­la­tion of tim­ing, would have dis­posed of Adolf Hitler be­fore that war got fully up to speed. Hirsch­biegel (Down­fall) ex­am­ines the story of Ge­org Elser (Chris­tian Friedel, The White Rib­bon), a Ger­man car­pen­ter and clock­maker who built and planted a bomb that came within a scant quar­ter hour of rid­ding the world of the Nazi leader in 1939.

The sus­pense is gone in far less time than that. Over the open­ing cred­its, we see a sweat­ing, grunt­ing Elser pack­ing his device into a cranny of a Mu­nich beer hall where the Führer is to speak. The ex­plo­sives det­o­nate, but the tar­get has es­caped. Fair enough. We know from his­tory that it didn’t work out; Hitler left the hall ear­lier than ex­pected, and the col­lat­eral dam­age was in­flicted on a bunch of in­no­cent by­standers.

So the story tog­gles back and forth be­tween Elser’s ar­rest and in­ter­ro­ga­tion, and his life and rad­i­cal­iza­tion in the years lead­ing up to the at­tempt. It builds a por­trait of a left-lean­ing, wom­an­iz­ing free spirit who grad­u­ally be­comes se­ri­ous about the fate of his fa­ther­land — and about a woman. She is Elsa (Katha­rina Schüt­tler), mar­ried to an abu­sive drunk­ard. The na­tion, Ger­many, is in the grip of an abu­sive despot.

The in­ter­ro­ga­tion scenes are bru­tal, graphic, and ex­tended. They fea­ture a good cop-bad cop tan­dem of po­lice chief Nebe (Burghart Klauss­ner) and Gestapo heavy Müller ( Jo­hann von Bülow). The tor­ture doesn’t loosen Elser’s tongue. An­other tactic does. But what he has to say is not what they, and Hitler, want to hear. Elser acted alone, and no amount of bru­tal­iz­ing can pro­duce a con­spir­acy that wasn’t there.

The im­pris­on­ment and in­ter­ro­ga­tion trig­ger flash­backs, but they don’t shed enough light on Elser’s progress from care­free he­do­nist to com­mit­ted as­sas­sin. There’s a lot more in the real his­tory of this story to pique our in­ter­est. Elser nearly sur­vived the war in a con­cen­tra­tion camp, where the pref­er­en­tial treat­ment he re­ceived prompted con­spir­acy the­o­ries at the time that Elser was mem­ber of the SS, and that the whole thing was a Nazi cha­rade to bur­nish Hitler’s aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity. This is not ref­er­enced in the movie, and it has been pretty thor­oughly dis­counted. But it could have in­jected some badly needed sus­pense. In­stead, we’re left with an in­trigu­ing piece of his­tory, and a lot of unan­swered ques­tions. — Jonathan Richards

I work alone: Chris­tian Friedel, cen­ter, with Burghart Klauss­ner, left, and Jo­hann von Bülow, right

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