19 June 2015 | Red-Barracuda
Intense war drama about a man whose story has been little-told
Oliver Hirschbiegel directed the celebrated war drama Downfall (2004) about the last week in the life of Adolf Hitler. With his new movie 13 Minutes, he returns to the subject of life in Nazi Germany but this time events are set mainly in the years leading up to the war. More specifically it focuses on a man who tried unsuccessfully to kill Hitler in the early months of a conflict that would go on to claim 55 million lives. The man is Georg Elser, who was a carpenter who was unaffiliated with any political party. He worked alone and set up a bomb that was set to go off in a beer hall where Hitler had a scheduled meeting. The film's title comes from the fact that the assassination attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, given that the Fuhrer left the target location thirteen minutes ahead of schedule. Oddly, Elser is a man who is little known. This is especially strange when you consider how well known the later assassination attempt on Hitler by Claus von Stauffenberg is. Elser by contrast seems to have been marginalised by history, which is why this film is so welcome as this is a man who deserves to have his story celebrated. Aside from a few intimate conversations and moments, the details contained in this film are based on historical accounts.
The structure of the story is told from the point that Elser is caught just after the bombing. From here he is interrogated by the Nazis and the story flashes back in sections so that we see how this musician/carpenter came to ultimately undertake his dangerous act. In taking this approach, the film is able to not only tell a historical drama but to also look at Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the war, specifically life in the countryside. Life in German rural villages always seems somewhat idyllic as was exploited by the Heimat films of the time and so it is especially jarring to see life continue in such a place but with an ever increasing Nazi presence, initially shown by the presence of small groups of brown shirts through to large swastika flags draped all over town leading ultimately to active persecution of citizens. People undesirable to the Nazis are taken away or pilloried by the authorities and the people of the village feel powerless to do anything about it. The film considers just how hard it was to actually go counter to the Nazi system at the time, seeing that all aspects of life were geared against disobedience to the Nazi state.
13 Minutes is a very good film because it combines a little know but important story with a setting in Nazi Germany rarely focused on. The performances are universally excellent and the overall authenticity is impressive. This extends to some disturbing torture scenes which feature actual Nazi interrogation methods. It's, therefore, a fairly intense film but one that surprisingly finds new things to tell us about a period in history which has had so many cinematic treatments and documentaries. It should go some way to elevate Elser himself more into the public consciousness and ensure his actions are never forgotten.