AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL – 2010
THE REICH STUFF
by Harlan Kennedy
They were like fiery parentheses or blazing
brackets. One film all but opened the 60th
Wanting a film so strong it would poison a race’s name forever, or for the 1,000 years of the anticipated Reich, Goebbels appointed a top director, Veit Harlan and a little-known but soon world-infamous actor, Ferdinand Marian, to present the story of the malevolent title character. ‘Jew Suss’ ends on the gallows after a colourfully duplicitous swathe through late mediaeval history.
A week before JUD SÜSS 2 showed at Berlin, at the
other end of the Competition, Martin Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND demonstrated
that America too is still obsessed, if only or mainly for its grand guignol potential, with the
Holocaust. Scorsese’s film makes a phantasmagoric blaze from the kindling of
Ben Kingsley is a silky Euro-doctor. Max Von Sydow
seems to have caught a secret shuttle from
These two films, one from the ex-Allies, one from
the ex-Axis, prove something odd and hypnotic. Nazism and its heritage still
haven’t climbed out of the collective world Alpentraum, or nightmare. They still haven’t puffed their way up
JUD SÜSS – RISE AND FALL is fascinating because it has more life than it should. Life of the wrong kind, some will argue, but still life. We expected a solidly researched, worthy, possibly staid reconstruction of a 70-year-old cause maudit. Instead the film is a little mad: mad like a melodrama from the 1940s, filmed in a St Vitus flicker of shadowy near-monochrome as it ranges kitschily across the years (until a volitional car crash ends its actor-hero) with every cast member playing to the hilt and some beyond. German cinema’s unbiquitous Moritz Bleibtreu – most recent major role, Andreas Baader – plays Josef Goebbels as a Teutonic cousin to Richard III. Gimping gait, florid gestures, barking delivery. Laurence Olivier, eat your art out.
Roehler’s JUD SÜSS is good bad cinema. A German
populace that has never been allowed to see the original film – an outdated
and absurd embargo – may be bewildered by this riotous aesthetic response to
an invisible template. Most of
Martin Scorsese lives in a country where it has been
open season for Holocaust-decrying ever since the Holocaust. You would think
the bonfire of righteous rage would have burned out. But
‘Detective’ Leonardo DiCaprio and his ‘colleague’ Mark Ruffalo – remember, nothing is what it seems – need only boat a mile or so out of mainland Massachusetts to find a world that negates the Pilgrims’ landing, puts sanity and clarity in the dock, annihilates 230 years of American cleansing and quarantining, so that the country can step afresh into the atavistic infection of world guilt.
What’s the message?
That world cataclysms mess up the world’s mind. That they can do so
for decades. This is a 1954 story that refers back to the 1940s and is being
told in 2010. That’s a three-score-years-and-ten span. The secret argument of
Ghosts live with us longer than we want. New guilts
and old guilts feed on each other, refreshing and sustaining the spectral
population. JUD SÜSS – RISE AND FALL moves the exorcism plot along a little,
without ever suggesting that our minds are rid, yet, of recent
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved