Tuesday, September 13, 2016

German history made surprising and palpable in Lars Kraume's THE PEOPLE vs FRITZ BAUER

If you've see as many foreign films and documentaries as I, then you've most likely encountered a lot of movies about or centering around Adolf Eichmann. Not to worry: you'll never have seen one quite like THE PEOPLE vs FRITZ BAUER (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer), the 2015 film from Lars Kraume just now reaching our shores. Eichmann -- that nasty Nazi nut who helped plan and execute the Holocaust that killed millions of Europeans Jews -- is greatly subsidiary here to the fellow who's front-and-center, the titular Fritz Bauer.

Herr Bauer, (as portrayed with steely fire and intelligence by Burghart Klaußner, above) became a prominent judge and prosecutor in post- WWII Germany, and was actually sent to a concentration camp early in his career for his political views and his fight against the Nazis. Although Bauer was a Jew, he was released from the camp (for reasons we learn toward the movie's end), which no doubt spared him the ovens. Emigrating to Scandinavia, he only returned to Germany after the Allies won the war.

This riveting and very surprising movie takes place in 1957, at a time when Germany was attempting, haltingly and not happily, to come to terms with its Nazi past (recently seen in another, more conventional German film, Labyrinth of Lies), as Bauer dedicates himself to rounding up as many Nazi war criminals as possible, both at home and abroad. He is blocked at every avenue by the powers-that-be (including, of course, Germany, but also the USA) and cannot even trust his own staff -- with, it seems, the exception of one justice-prone helper named Karl Angermann (played by the wonderfully versatile and compelling actor Ronald Zehrfeld (the sleazy Johnny in Phoenix and the kindly André in Barbara), shown above.

As directed and co-written (with Olivier Guez) by Lars Kraume, shown at right, the film is consistently intelligent, very well paced and given just enough style to make our journey an enjoyable and thought-provoking one. A kind of combination judicial procedural and mystery, the tale takes in the Holocaust, Jews, and civil rights of a sort not given much thought or care back in the 1950s -- an era in which everything from left-leaning politics to sexuality was hugely repressed.

TrustMovies cannot vouch for the veracity of the details of the tale told here: Is the character of Angermann created out of whole cloth? I suspect so, yet so convincing and moving is Zehrfeld's portrayal of the man, and so pivotal is Angermann to the idea of justice and sacrifice that the film pushes, that I suspect most audiences will gladly accept the tale as told, as we become engulfed in both the search and capture of Eichmann, as well as the repressed sexuality that finally must burst its seams.

The supporting cast (that's Lilith Strangenberg as an unusual cabaret performer, above) is used mostly for plot purposes, but the actors are all good enough to capture their characters with a few fine stokes. And for all of the time and energy devoted to uncovering that sexuality, what remains at the close of the film is a very strong sense of Herr Bauer as a man committed above all to fighting first the hiding and then the suppression of Germany's Nazi past. He was a hero, and this excellent film -- together with Herr Klaußner's memorable performance -- makes a fine and moving "movie" remembrance.

Beyond those two lead performances, the film lacks the depth for greatness, yet thanks to everything from its production design (Cora Pratz) to its cinematography (Jens Harant), it proves to be an extremely well-made and entertaining look back at an era in which growth and change were slow to begin but inevitable all the same. (Above, left, is Sebastian Blomberg, as one of Bauer's more devious adversaries.)

From Cohen Media Group and running a just-about-perfect 105 minutes, The People vs Fritz Bauer (in German with English subtitles) opens this Friday, September 16, in South Florida at Miami's Tower Theater and the O Cinema in Miami Beach; in Boca Raton at the Regal Shadowood 16, and at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth. Simultaneously, the movie will open in another dozen locations. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates with cities and theaters listed.

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