Hitler in Hollywood (HH, Hitler à Hollywood): Film Review

Mockumentary meets paranoid thriller in ill-judged anti-Hollywood polemic.

The film, directed by Frederic Sojcher, fails to convince, either as an entertainment or as a polemic against the Hollywood juggernaut.

PARIS — At the heart of Belgian director Frederic Sojcher's Hitler in Hollywood lies a false good idea - one of those alluring conceits that seem brilliant in the moment but which, seen in the cold light of day, might have been better left alone. It's the shotgun marriage of a mockumentary and a paranoid thriller, leavened with moments of light comedy, and it simply fails to convince, either as an entertainment or as a polemic against the Hollywood juggernaut. It's hard to see long queues forming for this, despite the eye-catching title.

The premise is that a documentary filmmaker (Maria de Medeiros, playing herself), making a film about French screen legend Micheline Presle (again, played by herself), learns of the existence of a brilliant young director called Luis Aramcheck who made a movie with Presle in 1939 that was never released and who then, in the confusion of the Second World War, unaccountably disappeared.

In the course of an investigation that begins in Brussels and takes in Paris, Venice, Cannes, London and Malta, Medeiros and her cameraman Thomas (Wim Willaert) discover a trailer for a second Aramcheck film that was never made, entitled Hitler in Hollywood. This presents documentary images of a U.S. senator called John McBridge, a Jack Valenti-type figure who contrives to turn up, in the manner of Woody Allen's Zelig, in photos of the German Führer or footage of Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta.

The title transpires also to be the code-name Aramcheck has devised for a fiendish American plot to sabotage his plans to create a vibrant European film industry by setting up a major studio that would rival Hollywood. The details emerge gradually during a series of interviews with Aramcheck's former collaborators, all now grizzled veterans. Along the way Medeiros takes time out to interview major European industry figures such as Cannes festival head Gilles Jacob and directors Volker Schlondorff and Wim Wenders, who duly rail against American mass culture and the dominance of the U.S. film industry.

Overall the movie lacks tension. Clips of Presle's early movies provide some luminous moments and newsreel footage of demonstrations featuring stars such as Yves Montand, Simone Signoret and Jean Marais remind us that the French demand for cultural exceptionalism has always been with us. However, the thriller element is too clearly grafted on (we're asked to believe that the plotters are still murderously active). And the implicit equation Hollywood equals dictatorship equals Hitler is ill-judged.

Opened: In France May 4
Production companies: Saga Film, Polaris Film Production & Finance, Intelfilm, RTBF
Cast: Maria de Medeiros, Micheline Presle, Wim Willaert, Hans Meyer, Theo Angelopoulos, Nathalie Baye, Marisa Berenson, Manoel de Oliveira, Gilles Jacob, Andrei Konchalovsky, Emir Kusturica, Michael Lonsdale, Tonie Marshall, Volker Schlondorff, Wim Wenders
Director: Frederic Sojcher
Screenwriters: Catherine Rihoit, Frederic Sojcher
Based on a story by: Renaud Andris, Lionel Samain
Producer: Hubert Toint
Director of photography: Carlo Varini
Production designer: Frederic Delrue, Francoise Joset
Music: Vladimir Cosma
Editor: Ewin Ryckaert
Sales: Wide Management
No rating, 87 minutes