16 November 2014 | Barev2013
New Jud Süss strikes a sensitive German nerve in Berlin
JUD Süß ("Jew Sweet") was the title of a film commissioned by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in 1940, to be made as an anti-Semitic vehicle intended to inflame the German people against the Jews of Germany and set the stage for their extermination. "Jud Süß — Film ohne Gewissen" ("Jud Süß — A Film Without a Conscience") is the title of a new film by ace German director Oskar Roehler, which goes back to 1940 to tell the story behind the making of the most notorious film in German cinema history – which in his own title he calls "A film without a conscience".
The original "Jud Süß" is still considered to be so racist and inflammatory that it is legally banned from public screenings in Germany, and prints of the film can be seen only at rare special screenings for academic personnel under strict supervision, the picture being regarded even now as an an evergreen piece of racist propaganda which might still incite neo-Nazis in Germany to violence against Jews.
Surprisingly this clearly well-intentioned film by a leading German director of liberal persuasion was greeted with boos of hysterical outrage by elements of the German critical establishment at the general press screening. No other competition film this year was booed –clearly a still highly sensitive Germanic nerve was struck. Those who were against the film didn't just dislike it — they HATED it –and surely not on esthetic grounds alone. Jud Süß -Film ohne Gewissen' is essentially a film about a film, and to some extent a film within a film (as extensive portions of the reconstructed original film are shown), which basically follows the rise and fall of the actor Ferdinand Marian, who was forced to play the leading role in Josef Goebbels' fiercely anti-Semitic 1940 film 'Jud Suess'. No cliché goose stepping soldiers are to be seen in this picture which is set among the elite-polite society of the Nazi era, providing an unusual view of the period and the people behind the scenes.
At the very beginning of the film Goebbels (a highly manic but extremely savvy Moritz Bleibtreu )spots Marian at a rehearsal of Shakespeare's "Othello" playing Iago, and concludes that he will be perfect for the title role of his planned anti-Semitic propaganda film Jew Suss. Marian balks fearing the role might actually injure his career, but Goebbels cannot be dissuaded and Marian is compelled into playing the title role of the film which becomes a gigantic hit and makes him an overnight star. However, his beautiful half-Jewish wife (Martina Gedeck) senses danger, and begs him not to return to Germany when they attend the Premiere of the film at the 1940 Venice Film Festival in Italy. (They could go to Casablanca, says she, and from there take a boat to America — shades of Rick's Cafe!) And here, a cute insert –we are informed that the film has been highly praised by a young Italian critic with the remarkable name of "Michelangelo Antonioni"!
Marian does go back to bask in his new found glory, but as the war progresses Jewish wife Dora is carted off to Auschwitz and He finds himself in a position much the same as that of the actor in "Mephisto", who was manipulated by the Nazis against his will to promote the aims of the Third Reich in Hungarian Istvan Szabo's 1981 Oscar winning film of that name. Austrian actor Tobias Morreti, plays Ferdinand Marian much as Klaus Maria Brandauer, also Austrian, played actor Hendrik Hoefgren in Szabo's "Mephisto" -- as a puppet manipulated by the Nazis and finally destroyed by them. Many German critics found Moritz Bleibtreu's Goebbels way too over the top but the actor defended himself saying that this Goebbels was meant to be a satire, not a documentary portrait, and this is precisely what rubbed the Nazi still lurking in the bones of many of these critics the wrong way. ("How dare you make fun of such a key figure of German history!") — I personally found Bleibtreu's Goebbels extremely effective and satirically hypnotic — arguably the best thing he has done to date.
Perhaps another point that didn't go down too well with the hyper-sensitive anti-Nazi German critics, was the fact that Goebbels is presented not as a madman, but as an extremely clever master of propaganda who knew that propaganda has to be subtle in order to be effective. No dummy he the notorious Nazi propaganda minister, and a very canny portrayal by Herr Bleibtreu, indeed one that, in this writers's humble opinion, should have won the Best Actor Silver Bear by a mile.
Katja Nicodemus, main critic of the intellectual German weekly "Die Zeit", came right out and called a Spade a Spade the day after the controversial Press screening saying, "As a German — I am shocked by the reaction of the German press to this film". What all this means in terms of collective German guilt feelings over the role of Germany as Genocide Inc. during WW II is really hard to sum up nicely. There are clearly many Germans still around who would prefer to see the whole thing swept under the carpet, or at least portrayed in a more "savory", documentary manner. Maybe some politically over-correct Germans didn't like the fact that Roehler took the liberty of having his actors sing the banned Nazi anthem "Deutschland Über Alles" in full, at a Christmas party near the beginning of the film — too realistic, nicht wahr? (Und, isn't this supposed to be a VERBOTEN song!) —
One thing that can certainly be said, however, without making any bones about it, is that Oskar Roehler's new film is definitely a film WITH a conscience, about a film with a purely Nazi conscience. And if they don't like that — well, one can only wonder about the Collective Unconscious of the booers.