Judge Brett Cullum warns you that this isn't at all about Eva Braun.
Gewalt. Gefühl. Gefangen. (Violence. Feeling. Being caught.)
Fuehrer Ex is the story of two friends who are incarcerated in an East German prison, and end up getting involved in the neo-Nazi fervor that erupted in the country in the late '80s and early '90s when they get out. Call it "German History X" if you like, but Fuehrer Ex is lent more reality by the fact that it was based on a true story and co-authored by Ingo Hasselbach, who actually lived this life. Hasselbach was a leader of a notorious faction of neo-Nazis who went on to establish an EXIT program to reform ex-members. It's a hard movie to watch, but it certainly raises some important topics, such as how the movement could appeal to youths who had been through rough times on the Communist side of the Berlin Wall. It's a movie that depicts prison life in all of its horror—from male violence to solitary horrors. It's about rage, and the consequences of hatred and political fervor on a friendship.
It begins innocently enough, with two slacker friends who dream of escaping from East Berlin. Naïve blonde Heiko (Christen Blummel) idolizes his free spirited friend Tommy (Aaron Hildebrandt), and agrees to attempt to escape across the dangerous border into West Germany with him. They are caught by border guards and sent to a Communist prison. Survival means alliances, and Tommy quickly befriends the neo-Nazi faction who seem to run the prison yard with an iron fist of national pride. Heiko befriends the head of corrections, but soon finds himself helpless as he is raped in a shower. He turns to Tommy's new friends for help, and the seeds are planted. When the Wall comes down both boys have found freedom, but Heiko is still firmly entrenched in the movement. Tommy flirts with the idea of joining him, but in the end realizes the fallacy of the group. Will the friends repair their relationship? Or do politics make it impossible?
Fuehrer Ex flirts with history, but really anchors itself as a relationship film about the two friends. It's a moving portrait of what life was like in East Germany before and immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The only problems come in trying to get so much mileage out of what is essentially a distasteful subject. There are a lot of violent images in the film, and some pretty harsh ones that don't distance the viewer very well. And yet I wasn't completely moved, because the characters weren't quite fleshed out enough to make me like them enough. As an essay on neo-Nazis, it seems sort of After School Special-like, with a lot of frank scenes thrown in. I've been through West and East Berlin, and can understand how this would be an effective movie for people who have the social history knowledge that can fill in the blanks often left by the film. Other viewers will just see it as a low budget Midnight Express, and leave it at that. It's a good companion to American History X, and fans of that film will find themselves in familiar territory.
The transfer is problematic—probably due to the budget constraints of the film. It has a decidedly VHS quality, especially in black scenes, where I saw wavy lines usually reserved for my VCR. The stereo mix is one of those "gets the job done" numbers that is neither impressive nor detrimental. The only extras are a photo gallery and a German trailer that is definitely spoiler-ridden.
I'd have to say this is a film made for people who are interested in this part of German history, and for those who don't mind neo-Nazis and prison violence. It doesn't present enough history to explain the Turks and their plight in the country after the Iron Curtain was torn down, but you have to know that history to fully understand the film's second half. Otherwise, this is another entry in the "violence begets violence" film series. It's surprising to me that this film surfaced on the TLA Releasing label; but it is part of their International Film Festival label, which seems designed to present independent foreign films you might not have seen in wide release. It does have a substantial amount of full-frontal nudity; but given its setting, this will not titillate anyone but the most ruthless sadists who are turned on by violence. Interestingly enough this movie was called Poison Heart in Germany, but here gets an American title that translates to "Ex Leader." I'm guessing the change would link it more directly with American History X, and also capitalize on the participation of an ex-leader of the neo-Nazi movement.
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