My Fuehrer -- the Really Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler

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BERLIN -- The marketing concept is a sound one: Sixty years after the end of World War II, Germans want to forget the shame and guilt of the Third Reich and be able to laugh about Hitler.

That's the zeitgeist that almost certainly will make "My Fuehrer -- the Really Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler" (Mein Fuehrer -- Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit ueber Adolf Hitler) a hit in Germany, where it opens Thursday, and it also provides a slogan ("Germany's first comedy about Hitler!") that will generate respectable ticket sales in art house theaters internationally.

The only problem is that "Mein Fuehrer" is not actually funny.

The film is being marketed as a comedy and is being compared to other great Third Reich comedies, from Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" to Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful." But it is not so much a comedy as a bland, politically correct fantasy about a Jew who teaches Hitler how to be Hitler.

As played by stand-up comedian Helge Schneider, Hitler is a lovable sad sack who has lost his will to triumph in the final months of the war at a time when the German people need him most. Goebbels has a great idea: We'll take a Jewish actor named Adolf Gruenbaum out of a concentration camp and get him to coach Hitler to make a single last-ditch effort inspire the Germans to support the war at an upcoming rally.

What follows is a chamber play between the two, in which Gruenbaum (played with quiet precision by Ulrich Muehe, fresh off his success in "The Lives of Others") devotes most of his time to therapy, getting Hitler to crawl around on hands and knees, barking, and to talk about his relationship with his father.

There are flashes of humor: Hitler in a track suit, Hitler playing with a toy battleship in a bubble bath or Hitler being humped by his dog Blondi. But director-screenwriter Dani Levy seems to avoid more opportunities for jokes than he takes. There are even flashes of controversy, as when the dictator tauntingly asks Gruenbaum why the Jews didn't fight back. (This question is mirrored in Gruenbaum's situation: Although the opportunity is repeatedly handed to him on a silver platter, Gruenbaum never has the nerve to kill Hitler.) But the theme is neither developed enough to inspire controversy nor funny enough to entertain.

Levy, a Swiss-born Jewish auteur who tackled German-Jewish issues in his recent hit "Go for Zucker!" seems less interested in comedy than he is in getting across a moral: We learn that Hitler had a small penis and was compensating for an unhappy childhood. That might be true, but we've heard it before, and from real historians. In the meantime, it has lost its allure as history or as potential for humor.

The final joke in the movie is a pun: When Hitler loses his voice, Gruenbaum has to bark the speech into a microphone while the Fuehrer lip-syncs it. Gruenbaum takes the opportunity to instruct the German nation to "Heal yourselves" (instead of "Heil Hitler," since heil also means "heal" in German). It's an important message but a weak pun.

The mood is light throughout, production values are excellent, and the film works as entertainment directed at an older set of viewers who are opposed to excitable fare. (Three state-funded public broadcasters, whose core audiences are largely older than 50, were involved in the production.) But to duplicate the success of "Life Is Beautiful," Levy would have done better to concentrate on the characters and comedy and leave the preaching to others.

MY FUEHRER -- THE REALLY TRUEST TRUTH ABOUT ADOLF HITLER
X Filme Creative Pool/Y Filme Directors Pool
Credits:
Director-screenwriter: Dani Levy
Producer: Marcos Kantis
Executive producers: Stefan Arndt, Barbara Buhl, Andreas Schreitmueller, Bettina Reitz
Director of photography: Carl-F Koschnick
Art director: Christian Eisele
Music: Niki Reiser
Costume designer: Nicole Fischnaller
Editor: Peter R. Adam
Cast:
Adolf Hitler: Helge Schneider
Prof. Adolf Gruenbaum: Ulrich Muehe
Dr. Joseph Goebbels: Sylvester Groth
Elsa Gruenbaum: Adriana Altaras
Albert Speer: Stefan Kurt
Heinrich Himmler: Ulrich Noethen
Rattenhuber: Lambert Hamel
Martin Bormann: Udo Kroschwald
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating
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