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Hitler comedy opens to bad reviews

Swiss Director Dani Levy's film is laughable but,unfortunately not very funny.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2007 17:08 IST

A slapstick comedy by a Jewish filmmaker about Adolf Hitler has opened in Germany to a chorus of bad reviews and condemnation by Jewish leaders.

Barring a miracle, Swiss director Dani Levy's Mein Fuehrer looks likely to be the biggest box office flop of the year in a nation which for weeks has been embroiled in pre-release debate over whether Germans should allow themselves a good chuckle at Hitler's expense.

In a nation not known for self-deprecating humour, Levy's film goes to great lengths to portray Hitler - and the Germans - as being laughably ridiculous. Not surprisingly, many film reviewers have derided precisely that aspect of the film.

"Levy's film is laughable but, unfortunately, it is not very funny. This reviewer found little to laugh about in this sadly unfunny movie," wrote a reviewer in Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.

"One of the most enduring crimes of the Third Reich is the embarrassment it has caused for subsequent generations of Germans," wrote Der Spiegel news magazine.
"That is about the hardest thing Germans have to endure - that the Third Reich is so unforgivably embarrassing."

Levy, a Jewish Swiss filmmaker who has made a career out of directing irreverent comedies, picked one of Germany's most outrageously irreverent stand-up comics to portray the fuehrer.

Helge Schneider, who plays an impotent and incontinent Hitler playing with toy battleships in a bathtub, is an anarchic comic who himself has directed and starred in a number of slapstick comedies - films that largely appeal to adolescent male audiences.

"Helge is precisely the man to deflate Hitler down to human size," Levy says. "Germans have been conditioned to think of Hitler as a larger-than-life demon whose actions and crimes are beyond human comprehension.

"As long as they think of him as being non-human, they will never come to terms with the fact that he was a very human, very mortal buffoon of a man. I needed a buffoon to play the role and Helge is the perfect buffoon."

Schneider says the controversy over the film only shows that Germans fail to see the ludicrous side of Hitler.

Echoing Der Spiegel's suggestion that Hitler's most unforgivable crime was in being a continual embarrassment to all future Germans, Schneider says: "Hitler was a pathological nincompoop who got where he was only because a lot of people somehow ignored the fact."

The film has outraged Jewish leaders in Germany, saying it makes Hitler seem harmless.

"My family is Holocaust survivors and it just turns my stomach to think that moviegoers in Germany will be laughing at Hitler and the Holocaust," says Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

"I just can't laugh about these things."

One of the Jewish community's most strident, high-profile leaders is Lea Rosh, a veteran newswoman who was a guiding force behind the Holocaust Monument located on the block between Brandenburg Gate and Hitler's one-time chancellery building in the heart of Berlin.

"There is no way that any film director can make Hitler funny," says Rosh. "Levy's film denigrates the horror and suffering that millions endured. It's not something you can laugh about, not now, not in 200 years, not ever."

Levy's last film was a black comedy about the estranged sons of a German Jewish father whose dying wish was that they make amends and share his estate in harmony.

The film was critically acclaimed but played at only a few art-house cinemas. His Hitler comedy is not expected to do even that well, despite or perhaps because of all the advance publicity.

Even so, Levy is well respected in Israel, where his last film was shown to cheers and also to boos and catcalls.

"I'm looking forward to the screening in Jerusalem," Levy says. "My last film was accused of being a piece of Goebbels Nazi propaganda. What on earth will hardliners in Israel think of this film?"

The filmmaker is also curious to see how right-wingers in Germany react to Mein Fuehrer.

"I'm just waiting for the complaints to come in from neo-Nazis, and from old-Nazis for that matter, who gripe that my film is disrespectful of their fuehrer and shows him in a bad light," Levy says.

"I mean, it's so typical of Germans to take it all so terribly seriously and not realise that their total lack of humour makes them a laughingstock around the world."

First Published: Jan 12, 2007 17:08 IST