The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)


In the back alleys of postwar West Germany, things could get pretty dicey.

In the back alleys of postwar West Germany, things could get pretty dicey.

(2015) True Life Drama (Cohen Media Group) Burghart Klauẞner, Ronald Zehrfeld, Michael Schenk, Sebastian Blomberg, Jörg Schüttauf, Stefan Gebelhoff, Pierre Shrady, Gȏtz Schubert, Laura Tonke, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Daniel Krauss, Rüdiger Klink, Carolin Stähler, Daniel Krauss, Nikolai Will, Stephan Grossmann, Lavinia Kiessler. Directed by Lars Kraume

 

Few nations have committed atrocities on as large a scale as Nazi Germany did. Following the war and the fall of Hitler, it is understandable that the divided Germany would want to put their deeds behind them, but in fact it was taken to extremes with the Germans often refusing to acknowledge that such atrocities took place – or that those who committed them still roamed free.

Fritz Bauer (Klauẞner) wasn’t one of those. A lawyer of Jewish descent, he had spent time in a concentration camp early on before being deported to Denmark. After the war, he returned home to Frankfurt to resume his career, rising to the position of State Attorney General. One of his obsessions was to see Adolph Eichmann (Schenk), one of the architects of the Final Solution, brought to justice.

Bauer was not a charismatic man but he was a dogged one. Assisted by the equally dogged Karl Angermann (Zehrfeld) who was one of the few operatives in his office he could actually trust – the others either were disinterested in is cause or were actively opposed to it, reporting his moves to higher-ups who had ties to the Nazi regime that might be revealed if former Nazis were brought to trial – he discovered that Eichmann was living under an assumed name in Argentina.

Frustrated at every turn by a government that was patronizing or actively opposing his attempts to bring Eichmann to justice, Bauer would do something that would be considered treason: he informed Israeli’s intelligence agency Mossad of Eichmann’s whereabouts and misled people in his own office as to where that was so that they couldn’t warn Eichmann before the Israeli’s could set up an ambush and take Eichmann out of South America. However, even the Israelis would break Bauer’s heart.

This is a stark, gripping movie that reminded me strongly of the Cold War spy thrillers of the 50s through the 70s, with double and triple crosses going on and a pervasive feeling of paranoia which wasn’t entirely unjustified. Klauẞner who is one of Germany’s leading actors, wears a wig that can only be called Bernie Sanders-esque and resembles one of those eccentric professors who stalks the room while he lectures. Klauẞner wisely doesn’t over-emote, retaining Bauer’s professorial demeanor but showing him to have a will of iron.

Zehrfeld, whom some might remember for his performance in Phoenix is equally good. Angermann looks at Bauer as a mentor and a father figure. Both men have skeletons in their closet that are similar in nature and both men are under pressure to drop the Eichmann pursuit or risk having their closet doors opened. Zehrfeld, a family man with a promising career, is caught between bringing justice to a monster who murdered millions or saving himself by denouncing his mentor and allowing the monster to go free. It’s not an easy choice and Zehrfeld makes us feel Angermann’s anguish.

It should be said that Angermann is actually a composite character – he didn’t exist as portrayed here. It should also be said that Kraume who also co-wrote the movie treats some rumors as fact and fudges a bit on the history. Still, much of what is seen here comes from Bauer’s own journals and reports which only recently became public knowledge. It also brought to light the difficulty in overcoming his own government, although it would only be a few years later that the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials would become reality, again due to Bauer’s persistence.

I found the movie gripping, if a bit slow-moving. Those with limited attention spans might squirm some during the interminable backroom deal brokering and strolls through the streets of Frankfurt, smoking thoughtfully. The subject matter is so fascinating and the performance so riveting that this should definitely be under your consideration to see forthwith as one of the best movies released so far this year.

REASONS TO GO: The performances by Klauẞner and Zehrfeld in particular were intense. Nicely captures the feeling of a Cold War-era thriller. Nicely illustrates the tunnel vision that nations possess.
REASONS TO STAY: Some liberties were taken with historical fact. A little bit drab.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content and a whole lot of smoking going on.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: It garnered the most German Film Awards (a.k.a. the Lolas) nominations this year with nine, with six of the nominations earning wins including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Zehrfeld).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/15/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Labyrinth of Lies
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle commences!

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Closed Circuit (2013)


Furtive Looks 101 will be taught this term by Professor Eric Bana.

Furtive Looks 101 will be taught this term by Professor Eric Bana.

(2013) Thriller (Focus) Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciaran Hinds, Riz Ahmed, Jim Broadbent, Kenneth Cranham, Jemma Powell, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Julia Stiles, Anne-Marie Duff, Barbora Bobulova, Luing Andrews, Neil D’Souza, Doug Allen, James Lowe, John Humphreys, David Sibley, Angus Wright, Adam Tedder, Denis Moschitto, Pinar Ogun, Hasancan Cifci, Leila Wong. Directed by John Crowley

The task of a British barrister is to represent the interests of the client to the best of his or her ability. When that task is rendered impossible due to the interference of outside sources, what is a barrister to do?

London’s ancient Borough Market has been bombed and a Turkish national named Farroukh Erdogan (Moschitto) has been arrested for the crime. Martin Rose (Bana) has been appointed to defend him after his original barrister Simon Fellowes (Lowe) commits suicide. Because some of the evidence in the case is of a sensitive nature, a second barrister is appointed to handle that aspect of the case as a judge has been given the task of determining if the classified information can be used in open court or if it is too risky to allow the information to become public knowledge. That barrister is Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall) who at one time had an affair with Martin which ended up wrecking his marriage. Martin is still in the midst of an ugly custody fight stemming from that.

Both Martin and Claudia have no great desire to work together but as this is an extremely high-profile case that could do wonders for both their careers, they both agree to keep their past relationship past. The two of them are told that they may have no contact whatsoever for fear of the knowledge that Claudia has  been given be transmitted to Martin who might then use it in court anyway. Of course, you know THAT’S not going to last long.

It becomes clear pretty quickly that both of them are under surveillance and that Sinister Forces are at work. Sinister Forces of course are at work because there are Dark Secrets that the Government doesn’t want to get out. In movies like this, these sorts of terms are always capitalized. Soon the two discover independently of each other that they are both in danger as is the family of the accused and that the secrets that aren’t connected to the information that Claudia has been given are far more serious and far-reaching in consequence than they could have imagined.

The British are normally exceedingly good at these sorts of thrillers – look to John Le Carre if you don’t believe me. There is a good deal of moral ambiguity and a dearth of action. Those are the sorts of things that are poison to the general American market who tend to prefer their heroes to act first and think after.

Bana is usually an actor whose films I look forward to seeing but here his character is cold and emotionally shut off. There’s an upper class arrogance to him that makes him unpleasant – not to mention the knowledge that he cheated on his wife, even if she’s been bitchy to him since he’s clearly earned it. Hall’s character Claudia has a bit of a stick up her bottom, and it never becomes clear to me what attracted these two characters to one another in the first place although it must be said sex often does strange things to people.

The opening sequence is quite marvelous – we are shown footage from closed circuit cameras, one morphing into two, then four, then eight. We get a variety of views of people going about their day and we know something awful is about to occur. We are briefly shown where that is going to happen (a truck parked in a place where it shouldn’t be) and then there is a flash and smoke and then nothing. It’s very effective and gets ones hopes sky-high.

Sadly, they don’t use the conceit again and most of the rest of the film is shot in standard style. It’s the one place where Crowley goes outside the box and it works beautifully. One gets the sense that Crowley – whose directing experience is mostly in the theater – didn’t have the confidence to continue that kind of thinking. I hope he acquires it because that sequence shows a great deal of confidence as a director.

The story relies a good deal on the minutiae of English law. I’m obviously unfamiliar with British law but two separate barristers to handle different aspects of the case? Why would that be necessary? Why not just submit the sensitive material directly to the judge and let him/her rule on whether or not it was admissible in open court?

Hinds, a reliable actor, gets a cup of coffee as Martin’s assistant and Stiles is incongruous as an American journalist whose sole function is to be used to force Martin into realizing that there’s an Evil Conspiracy afoot. You know, the Sinister Forces I alluded to earlier. I also thought Bobulova was fine as a government functionary who’s not what she seems and Broadbent jovial as the British Attorney General whose threats are veiled within friendly banter.

I have to say that the movie isn’t bad, it’s just okay – but JUST okay. It didn’t really possess enough substance to engage me much beyond the closing credits but there was enough there to be maddening that a better film couldn’t have been made.

REASONS TO GO: Excellent opening sequence. Urbane.

REASONS TO STAY: Predictable. Lots of plot holes. Love affair is unrealistic.

FAMILY VALUES:  The language is a bit salty in places and there’s some violence as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Borough Market, setting of the first scenes in the movie, also has played host to such films as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/31/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 44% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Runaway Jury

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Truly, Madly, Deeply