Comedy on Hitler turns him into a clown
Berlin | December 28, 2006 9:15:06 AM IST
Both German and Jewish sensitivities are to face a severe test next month with the launch of a comedy movie in German that turns Adolf Hitler into a clown with 90 minutes of juvenile jokes.
The title, 'Mein Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler', gives a foretaste of the send-up, in which a fictional Hitler, depressed in 1944 at losing his war, invites a Jew from a concentration camp to live with him and coach his public speaking.
Stills released so far show scenes of Hitler training his German shepherd dog to do "Heil Hitler" salutes or lying in the bath playing with a toy warship.
The movie's Jewish director, Dani Levy, has admitted that while he could never make a funny Holocaust movie, he thinks there is nothing wrong with a parody about the Holocaust's Nazi authors.
Levy, 49, who is Swiss-born but has lived in Berlin since 1980, says he checked the script first with his mother, a Holocaust survivor, to make sure he was not too off-key with the japes.
For decades German cinema has mostly avoided Hitler. Two years ago, Oliver Hirschbiegel's 'The Downfall' offered a vision of the gloom of Hitler's last 10 days alive. It certainly was not light-hearted entertainment.
While Germans enjoy sophisticated lampooning of their living politicians on TV and at cabaret clubs, they have never learned to giggle about Hitler, their home-grown monster.
The comic Hitler of the movie is portrayed as too depressed to give one of his ranting speeches. So he arranges for a (fictional) Jewish acting teacher, Adolf Gruenbaum, played by German actor Ulrich Muehe, to give him a five-day crash course in effective speaking.
Helge Schneider, a German musician and occasional actor who usually presents travelling comedy shows, plays Hitler.
During Gruenbaum's therapy, this Hitler wears a yellow tracksuit and reveals he is insecure, impotent and a bed-wetter.
This version can be traced back to wartime jokes aimed at belittling Hitler. Levy said he was influenced by the theory of Swiss-based psychologist Alice Miller, published in 1980, that something must have gone wrong with Hitler in his childhood.
His other inspiration was a book by Paul Devrient, a German who really did coach Hitler in public speaking.
Although the movie does not open in Germany until Jan 11, and reviewers have yet to say how successful Levy has been in his self-imposed cultural mission, the media have already been debating whether such a film is a healthy development.
While Levy says that his title, 'The Truly Truest Truth,' mocks the stern intonation of the usual German TV documentaries about the Nazi, some wonder what tomorrow's children will understand about Hitler, if they only remember the comedy version.
Despite the bravado, the production team admit they found it creepy to film 'Mein Fuehrer' on Berlin streets in the first two months of 2006 with crowds of extras massed on the street in Nazi uniforms, shouting "Heil Hitler" and waving swastika banners.
What Levy's mother makes of the movie is also unknown.
"After the first draft of the script, I spoke to my mother who experienced Naziism as a Jew in Berlin. I wanted to know if she had a major moral issue," Levy says. "But she just said, 'Do not come complaining to me, if the critics maul you.'"
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