HARLAN, in the Shadow of Jew Suess, 2008 Viewed at the Los Angeles Jewush film festival Written and directed by Felix Moeller, German with English subtitles. Summary: A Hardball study of Nazi era guilt passed down through three generations of a single family.
Though almost forgotten today, Veit Harlan was one of Nazi Germany's most notorious filmmakers. His most notorious film was the blatantly anti-Semitic propaganda film Jud Suess (1940).. viewed at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, First off It needs to be made clear that this documentary is not to be confused with the German dramatic feature, "Jud Suess – a Film without a conscience", which was premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year to which, however, it can easily be seen as a companion piece. "Jud Suess" (A film without a conscience) was basically a fictionalized docu-drama focusing on Ferdinand Marian, the actor who (perhaps unwittingly) played the Jud Suess title role in the original Nazi propaganda film, and director Veit Harlan is a secondary character. Both Veit and Marian are, of course, played by contemporary German actors. The present documentary zeroes in on the director himself, Veit Harlan, with various swatches of archival footage of him and his associates included, but is primarily about the legacy of guilt feelings passed on to his progeny right up to the present. Some illustrative scenes from the 1940 rabidly anti-Semitic "Jud Suess" are shown, but most of the film centers of interviews with the direct descendants, children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, of the notorious director who was indicted for war crimes immediately after the war, but was twice acquitted by "friendly" (i.e., Nazi sympathetic) judges. Harlan continued to make films after the war and never apologized for his key role fostering the intense racist policies of Goebbels and the Nazis, but various excuses have been made for him, such as that he was not really an anti-Semite but rather an opportunist who made the films offered him under the Nazi regime "as best he could".
One son however, violently disagrees and became such a hater of his father's Nazi collaboration that he has devoted his entire life to exposing it over and over in every way possible. Another son has no such qualms and claims that nobody has a right to ask him how he felt or feels about his father — a hard one to argue with. A grand daughter raised in France and speaking in French admits she has always been somewhat ashamed to be identified with him. A nephew living in Capri, Italy, where Veit died and was buried, takes the guarded view that his uncle was basically an artist who merely "got carried away a little". A daughter, Maria Koerber is an actress who took her mother's last name to avoid the indignity of carrying the Harlan name and makes no bones about her disgust with Harlan's activities.
Most peculiar of all is the testimony of Christiane Kubrick, (birth name Christianne Susanne Harlan, born 1932) who is a niece of Harlan's and the widow of the late American movie director Stanley Kubrick! She also takes the shaky position that Veit was more of an artist than a Nazi per-se, and claims that Stanley always wanted to make a film about her uncle working in Nazi Germany, but never quite got around to it. Too bad — that would have been something to see! All in all, Felix Moeller's film is less about Harlan than about his immediate descendants and the burden of guilt they bear (or do not bear) up to the present day half a century after the director's death. Mr. Moeller spent a lot of time tracking these people down and getting them to talk to the camera about their feelings, being the progeny of a man who, whether he was a card-carrying member of the party or not, unquestionably made a major contribution to the extermination of the Jews. What comes out is an amazing spectrum of commentary: defensive, offensive, tentatively neutral, anger, excuses, leave-us-the-hell- alone, silence, befuddlement, sorrow, who cares anyway — just about every kind of response one can imagine under the circumstances.
Director Felix Moeller has a certified filmmaking pedigree, being the son of outstanding German director Margarethe von Trotte and has made a number of other bio-documentaries, but this one is very special in that it amounts to a depth probe into the collective psychology of an extended German family with a rich Nazi pedigree which, in passing, can easily be seen as the reflection of the mixed feelings regarding the legacy of the Third Reich that still float about in the collective unconscious of Germans today. Kudos, Herr Moeller. Too bad your film was not seen by more people (Jewish and Non- Jewish) here. Alex Deleon, Miracle Mile, L.A. May, 2010