When this movie opened, I postponed seeing it, thinking that I had seen so many other movies about World War II that this one could not surprise me. And was I wrong! Turns out that i knew just about nothing concerning this particular attempt to assassinate Hitler while he spoke in Munich in 1939. For most of you, this movie will be revelatory both in terms of history and the character of Georg Elser, the unsuccessful perpetrator whose home-made bomb exploded 13 minutes after Hitler left the lectern.
Told in the real time of Elser’s arrest and interrogation and the flashbacks to his life in the decade leading up to the event, this movie artfully details every aspect of the rise of Nazism and the national mood in Germany. The set designs of factories, steel-work installations, offices, beer-halls and rural houses are pitch-perfect as are the depictions of women working in the fields, children caught up in the frenzy of Hitler-Youth and ordinary people seduced by the peer pressure of an entire population hypnotized by the Fuhrer’s promises of power and glory for the Homeland. The character of Georg, a jack of all trades artisan, furniture-maker, skilled technician, musician and ladies’ man is singular and captivating. We see him playing the accordion, then singing, then capturing the heart of a young woman who attempts to teach him the tango only to be led by him with the grace and control of a seasoned dancer. Georg is a man who thinks for himself, avoids joining any political group and has the clarity and instincts of a true humanist. The contrast between his deepening awareness of the moral depravity around him with the mob euphoria of the crowds leads to his eventual decision that he must act alone.
Driven by his conviction, he must leave his family, the woman he loves and the town that has grown so foreign and abhorrent to him. Though we are familiar with re-enactments of life in concentration camps, there are scenes of torture in this film that make water-boarding seem like the pause that refreshes. But nothing is gratuitous here - these are records of one of the darkest periods in man’s history. The fact that one man had the strength and determination of an ancient prophet is a symbol, however small, of the redemptive power of character, rational thought and human values. The fact he failed was tragic but his heroic effort and resistance to the forces of evil was a startling triumph. Previously unknown to most of us, Georg Elser has been given his proper recognition in a remarkable performance by Christian Friedel and a well-crafted film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
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