'Jew Suss' booed at Berlin film festival

Chronicles the making of a Nazi propaganda film

BERLIN -- A film about the making of one of Nazi Germany's most notorious anti-Semitic propaganda films was booed on Thursday during a screening at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Sections of the audience jeered and hissed at the premiere of "Jud Suss -- Film ohne Gewissen" ("Jew Suss -- film without conscience"), which chronicles the making of its 1940 namesake "Jud Suss," a film still largely banned in Germany.

Blending fact with fiction, the two-hour movie casts Austrian actor Tobias Moretti as the Austrian Ferdinand Marian who is trapped by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (Moritz Bleibtreu) into accepting a film acting role that would haunt him for the remainder of his career.

Before its first screening, critics had accused the film of distorting history with its depiction of how Marian ended up playing the role of the wily Jewish businessman Joseph Suss Oppenheimer in the original movie.

Marian is shown to be highly reluctant to take the role and the film gives him a Jewish wife who ends up in a concentration camp, and includes a scene in which Goebbels effectively forces him into accepting the part.

Neither detail is based on fact, though historians have said Marian was not keen to play Oppenheimer.

Although the original "Suss" was seen by an estimated 20 million people and helped to set the wheels of the Holocaust in motion, German director Oskar Roehler was unapologetic about changing the facts to fit his version of the story.

"If I'd been wanting to make a documentary, I wouldn't have made a feature film," Roehler told a news conference.

Commercial broadcasts of the first "Suss," directed for Goebbels by Veit Harlan, are still forbidden in Germany, where it can only be shown under tight restrictions.

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Roehler's work reshoots much of the original film, which was compulsory viewing for Heinrich Himmler's SS and was shown in countries under Nazi occupation prior to mass deportations of Jews, according to the German Historical Museum.

Actor Bleibtreu said a degree of artistic license was necessary to satirize "clown-esque" figures like Goebbels.

"It's about time we Germans were able to live with our history in a freer way, so that we can emancipate ourselves from it to some extent," he said.

"This doesn't mean that we have to forget it -- not at all. That's why we make these films."

In the original, Oppenheimer uses money to buy influence among his Christian masters in 18th century Germany and then commits heinous crimes that the film uses to vilify Jews and show them to be people of low moral character.