Dani Levy undertakes a challenging task with My Fuehrer to make an
historical comedy out of a Jew’s interactions with Hitler during late 1944.
But some challenges are better left unaccepted, and unfortunately My Fuehrer
is one of them.
The film, shown at the 2007 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the 2007
Cannes Film Festival, is set in a devastated Berlin—when the Third Reich
hierarchy realizes that their war is all but lost.In a last attempt to
present a confident and aggressive posture to the German citizenry and the
World, Hitler is scheduled to give a rousing, highly choreographed New
Years’ Day speech to one million of his followers and to twelve of Leni
Riefenstahl’s cameras, complete with facades and backdrops of a pre-bombed
However, there is one huge problem: Hitler (Helege Schneider) is depressed
and emotionally incapable of performing this or any other public
responsibility.Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) determines that Hitler requires
the help of his former, Jewish acting teacher, Professor Adolf Gruenbaum
(Ulrich Mühe, The Lives of Others).So a few days before the speech,
Gruenbaum, with his family, is unceremoniously brought from the
Sachsenhausen concentration camp to the Reich Chancellery to prep Hitler for
his performance of a lifetime.
The film chronicles the five days prior to the speech.Gruenbaum’s Actors
Studio techniques uncover Hitler’s deprived and unhappy childhood and Hitler
grows dependent on “his Jew.”Gruenbaum is in the precarious position of
needing to succeed to protect his family, but wanting to fail.
With this premise, the film could have been a comedy or a tragedy, but sadly
it is neither.My Fuehrer lacks the depth of character, analysis and
tension that could have turned this comedy into a drama.
Dani Levy, whose film Alles Auf Zucker (Go for Zucker! An Unorthodox Comedy)
swept the German Film Awards (Deutscher Filmpreis) last year, with
statuettes for best direction, best screenplay and best film, said about My
Fuehrer “I think ultimately, the time is always ripe for a good comedy,
especially about painful topics and ones which somehow stagnate in public
discussion. I wanted to look at this horrible time with a comic eye. I had
the feeling I decomposed it from the inside. I went into this power
apparatus and raged in it as a Jew and then displayed it. I had the
opportunity to pull it out of its landmarked box”.
Yet, My Fuehrer’s humor does not make Hitler laugh-out-loud
ludicrous—which in my mind is the only way Gruenbaum’s situation could be
the least bit funny.Picture, if you will, Danny Kaye playing
Gruenbaum…boldly cavorting around the Reich Chancellery and running rings
around Hitler…that would be funny.But Gruenbaum’s eyes, sad and fearful
with the recognition of his precariousness, prevent the audience from
enjoying the amusing details of the film.Yes, Hitler playing with toy
battleships in his bath could be comical, and Eva Braun complaining about
Hitler’s sexual inadequacy could be laughable, and the Nazis’ exaggerated
reliance on hierarchy and bureaucracy could be satirically clever, and
Hitler having half his moustache accidentally shaved off could be silly
slapstick humor…but not when directly and simultaneously juxtaposed with
Hitler’s absolute power over life and death.
My Fuehrer has some interest because of its novel attempt to view a
catastrophic situation with humor; however, the disappointing result
illustrates just how difficult it is to view evil squarely and laugh at it.
On balance, the film’s realism is more compelling than its comedy.