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    My Führer

    Hit and miss

    "My Führer — The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler" proves that if you aren't Mel Brooks, you probably can't make a Holocaust comedy.


    What can possibly be in the air this summer to account for four films in as many weeks dealing with Hitler, Nazis and/or the Holocaust as central themes? (And that count doesn't even include last spring's laughable "Valkyrie" or the just plain dull "Good.") In the past few weeks, we've already been subjected to the execrable excesses of "Death in Love" and the dubious morality of "Flame & Citron."

    Original title: Mein Führer — Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler.
    Written and directed by: Dani Levy.
    Cast: Helge Schneider, Ulrich Mühe, Sylvester Groth, Adriana Altaras, Stefan Kurt, Ulrich Noethen.
    Cinematography: Carl-F Koschnick, Carsten Thiele.
    Edited by: Peter R. Adam.
    In German with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Quad Cinema
    34 West 13th St., between 6th Ave. and University
    (212) 255-8800.

    So, was it bad karma or mere coincidence that the American premiere of German director Levy's film was the very same week that the German government was approached (by the Central Council of Jews in Germany) to lift the ban on printing Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and just one week before the release of Quentin Tarantino's highly publicized "Inglourious Basterds?"

    Subtitled "The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler," and billed as "the bastard love child of Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" and Mel Brooks' "The Producers," it certainly sounded like a sharp-edged spoof about Hitler, with nods to both the Jewish comic (Brooks) and the accused Communist sympathizer (Chaplin) — IF ONLY!

    But Levy never achieves the tone of either Brooks or Chaplin or even Roberto Benigni — whose "Life is Beautiful" he credits with giving him the freedom to try a comedy involving concentration camps — nor does he find a steady satirical tone of his own. Admittedly, it takes a certain kind of mad genius to even attempt a comedy about one of the 20th century's greatest mass murderers — Peter Duncan's "Children of the Revolution" was a decent enough spoof of Stalin, but no one has yet come up with a satire on Pol Pot's regime.

    My Führer  
    Levy uses the true fact that Hitler actually had an acting teacher (Paul Devrient) who helped build his original public persona, and the director re-imagines that teacher as a Jew residing in Sachsenhausen — the same concentration camp where last year's far better fact-based film, "The Counterfeiters," also took place.

    "My Führer" covers only a few days towards the end of World War II, from just before Christmas and New Year's of 1944 to January of 1945. The German people and Hitler (Helge Schneider) himself, have lost all hope. Propaganda minister Goebbels (Sylvestor Groth) hatches a wild scheme to raise the spirits of one and all. (Coincidentally, Groth also portrays Goebbels in the upcoming Tarantino flick.)

      My Führer
    Adolf Israel Grünbaum (Ulrich Mühe), Levy's version of Hitler's acting teacher, is released from the camp to help revitalize and thereby mobilize the Führer, while architect Albert Speer (Stefan Kurt) creates a façade to hide the ruins of Berlin before which Hitler will give his New Year's speech.

    Certainly there are comic possibilities here, but Schneider's Hitler is stodgy and unfunny. Once Grünbaum arrives, some amusing things do happen — his plan to kill the Führer notwithstanding — but they're all fairly predictable. He winds up analyzing Hitler, who has father issues (surprise!) and bathes with a toy submarine.

    Two of the funniest moments involve a depressed Hitler getting into bed with both Grünbaums for comfort and accidentally shaving off his mustache (hairless, he looks just like Gary Beach in the same role in Broadway's "The Producers"), but overall, humor is sorely lacking in a film that claims to be a comedy. Levy's script constantly wobbles between the comic and the cosmic.

    The late Mühe (he died in 2007, right after filming "My Führer"), best known here as the Stasi spy Gerd Weisler in "The Lives of Others," had also played such Nazis as Mengele and Goebbels. His deviously foolish Grünbaum would be at home in several Bertolt Brecht epics, and it's a shame that the film doesn't support his slyly humorous characterization.

    AUGUST 17, 2009

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