My Fuhrer -- Film Review

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Swiss-born, Berlin-based filmmaker Dani Levy most recently was represented in the States with his impressive but regrettably underperforming dramedy "Go for Zucker." His new Hitler-themed comedy vehicle, "My Fuhrer," also might cruise a slower Autobahn lane, but blame here lies with its daunting genre choice.

Hitler as film comedy is rare indeed ("The Great Dictator," "To Be or Not to Be" and Mel Brooks' "The Producers" spring to mind), and the reason is obvious: Immeasurable evil and yuks mix like oil and water. But Levy again shows his flair for comedy, inventiveness and a will to entertain.

A decent portion of the usual suspects among more demanding, smarter, historically attuned audiences should venture a bite. The production is handsome, the smart references do some justice to history, and the story idea intrigues.

As writer-director Levy has contrived it, the Reich's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), is seeing the grim writing on the country's pre-Berlin wall of late 1944: Germany is losing the war, and a weary Hitler (Helge Schneider) is losing steam and fire. Goebbels thinks he has the answer. Hitler, almost as defeated as his country, must get his mojo back and deliver to the German people an all-important morale-boosting speech that will recharge the nation.

The one who can jazz Hitler back into charismatic action is Jewish professor Adolf Grunbaum (the late Ulrich Muhe, award-winning star of the foreign-language Oscar winner "The Lives of Others"), a former drama coach and prewar top theater personality who has been detained but is now sprung by Goebbels from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Grunbaum, of course, accepts the job to retool Hitler but on the condition that his wife, Elsa (Adriana Altaras), and the little Grunbaums be allowed to come along. Thus, the family is given livable but grim quarters in the notorious Chancellery. (One scene, evidence of Levy's bravado, even has Hitler in bed with Mr. and Mrs. G.)

The once-renowned titan of German theater has only a few days to work his magic. Employing a combination of ego-boosting exercises and psychotherapy, Grunbaum tutors his ward as the Nazi bigwigs observe via a two-way mirror. A mutual respect emerges between the professor and the Nazi leader, even to the point of Hitler commanding Goebbels to bring the professor back after he has lost favor with the propaganda minister. The big day of Hitler's speech arrives and so does a terrible circumstance that tests Grunbaum's talents as never before.

Knowing references to the Nazi regime abound. Goebbels' womanizing is often on view, as are such Hitler intimates as the respectable-looking Albert Speer, the bespectacled Heinrich Himmler and creepy Martin Bormann.

Infamous but unseen Reich filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl is calling the shots for a documentary to capture the climactic speech, and mention is made of the supposed "ideal" Terezin concentration camp and Hitler's problems with his father. Even the fuhrer's famous German shepherd, Blondie (whom his loving master put to death in the Bunker), appears.

"Fuhrer," which also includes well-integrated archival footage, is lots of fun for history buffs. Moviegoers will appreciate a few laughs, good performances and plenty of great production value (especially those Nazi digs and the vast crowd scenes). Even Schneider, when lensed at the right angles, passes as a credible Hitler, especially before he loses his beloved mustache.

Opens: Friday, Aug. 14 (First Run Features)
Production: An X Verleih presentation of a Y Filme Directors Pool and X Filme Creative Pool production in association with Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk and Arte
Cast: Helge Schneider, Ulrich Muhe, Sylvester Groth, Adriana Altaras, Stefan Kurt, Ulrich Noethen, Lambert Hamel, Udo Kroschwald, Axel Werner, Wolfgang Becker, Katja Riemann
Director-screenwriter: Dani Levy
Producer: Stefan Arndt
Directors of photography: Carl F. Koschnick, Carsten Thiele
Production designer: Christian Eisele
Music: Niki Reiser
Costume designer: Nicole Fischnaller
Editor: Peter R. Adam
No rating, 89 minutes