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Adolf Hitler: "Get me my Jew, dead or alive! Alive, of course!"
Reportedly the very first German film to focus on Adolf Hitler, Mein Führer: Die Wirklich Wahrste Wahrheit Uber Adolf Hitler is designed as a revisionist satire of sorts. Writer-director Dani Levy (Go For Zucker!) is clearly inspired by Chaplin's The Great Dictator, Brooks' The Producers and Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be. Is this film worthy enough to be placed alongside those comic masterpieces?
It's late December, 1944, and things aren't looking bright for the Nazi regime. Half of Hitler's army has already mentally forfeited, seeing defeat as inevitable. Indeed, even the Führer himself (Helge Schneider, 7 Dwarves) has lost all confidence of victory, succumbing to isolation in his office and bedroom. As a last-ditch panacea to his beloved boss and the Reich's crumbling 1,000-year Empire, the Minister of Propaganda Dr. Goebbels (Sylvester Groth, Inglourious Basterds) does something unthinkable.
Enter Professor Adolf Grunbaum (Ulrich Muhe, The Lives Of Others), a brilliant Jewish actor who's recruited to re-energize the Führer's initiative and spirit. Goebbels wants Grunbaum to coach Hitler on building self-esteem, while also preparing for a ferocious, rousing new speech to give hope to his homeland and the dwindling military forces. While Grunbaum would just as well kill the very man who has massacred and imprisoned his people, he stops short when Hitler breaks down and reveals his humanity.
Quite honestly, I had no idea what I was getting into when I sat down to watch My Führer. The original German subtitle is translated as The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler—obviously a joke considering the fact this is pure fiction. Yet there are a number of historical accuracies which Levy deliciously uses as satirical targets, including Hitler's physical abuse by his father and his aggressively over-the-top oratory. Levy also plays around with the popular misconception that Hitler was a whiny man-child clamoring for world dominance.
Being a big fan of satires, I laughed out loud several times. There's a shot of Hitler taking a bath with a toy battleship floating on top. Early on, Grunbaum manages to get his protégé into a yellow jumpsuit and to do a variety of calisthenics. Levy also can't resist making fun of Hitler's manhood, with Mistress Eva Braun (Katja Riemann, Blood And Chocolate) complaining with bewilderment, "I can't feel you, my Führer!" It's clear My Führer won't appeal to all tastes. After all, there are many people out there who will always consider comedies about the Holocaust in extremely poor taste; this is why Chaplin's The Great Dictator was lambasted by some upon its initial release.
With this last point in mind, Levy only partially succeeds with the satire. Some scenes are so uncomfortably realistic in tone they only remind us of the revolting Nazi atrocities of the time. One particular example is after Grunbaum requests all the Jews at the concentration camp he was at to be released in exchange for his services to the Führer. While Goebbels eventually relents, Grunbaum asks for proof and what he gets is a phone call from a friend who is being forced to lie at gunpoint. Here's a bit of advice, if you take on such a dangerous and taboo subject to satirize, you either go all the way or give up. This was Chaplin did with The Great Dictator, with the exception of the ending, which was so powerful it's impossible to make a fuss. Here, the tone wavers way too much throughout, especially during Hitler's climactic speech; it simply renders Levy's agenda as uneven and jumbled.
Luckily, My Führer is still worth watching thanks to exceptionally good performances across the board. The late Ulrich Muhe plays the stage actor just right, constantly torn between sucking up to Nazi demands and taking the golden opportunity to wipe out the most evil man on Earth. Stand-up comic Schneider seems to be having a ball as Adolf Hitler, and he generates laughs pretty much every time he's onscreen. Both actors also play off each other with superb timing and wild abandon.
Matching the leads is Groth's sly, no-nonsense turn as the Minister of Propaganda. Incidentally, Groth would play Goebbels again in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.
First Run Features gives My Führer an acceptable DVD release. Although the packaging fails to mention the tech specs, the 1.85:1 anamorphic image is excellent. There's very little grain, natural flesh tones, and fine black levels. The DD 2.0 Stereo track (?) is in German, with white, easy-to-read subtitles appearing at the bottom of the print. On the down side, the extras are pretty much shiest—two text interviews and a photo gallery. The director's interview is more of a written statement, while the one with Muhe only has two (count 'em, two) questions with answers!
I can't heil Levy's film as great. Still, I do find it not guilty, warts and
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