*** (out of 5)
September 15, 2017
Christian Friedel as GEORG ELSER
Katharina Schüttler as ELSA
Burghart Klaußner as ARTHUR NEBE
Johann von Bülow as HEINRICH MÜLLER
Felix Eitner a HANS EBERLE
David Zimmerschied as JOSEF SCHURR
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel
BY KEVIN CARR
Even though it’s 2017, if you haven’t been living in a cave, you’ll realize that it’s still important to remind ourselves that Nazis were the bad guys. If you don’t believe me, just look at some of the films that come from Germany. Even without the wham-bam Captain America patriotism from Hollywood, these films that originate in Germany do not hesitate to portray the Nazis as the monsters that they were.
“13 Minutes” is one of those movies, which Germany has been making for the past 70 years to reconcile its own dark history in Europe. In this sense, it’s a more pure film of this ilk than what you’d expect from Hollywood because it is authentically German, and it’s not sensationalized like some American war films are.
“13 Minutes” tells a story that many people have heard peripherally but are generally unfamiliar with. The film follows Georg Elser (Christian Friedel), a craftsman who attempts to assassinate Hitler during World War II. He comes dangerously close to doing so, missing him by only 13 minutes. When he is caught, he is questioned by the SS about any co-conspirators and eventually jailed for the murder of multiple German soldiers who were still in the building.
During the film, we see Elser flash back to his earlier life, set up against the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Rather than sensationalizing this or having the rise of the Third Reich bet taking place so obviously in the background, much of these flashbacks take place in Elser’s little hamlet where he grew up. The Nazis, as a growing party, had a presence but was still simply a viable political option for some people. It wasn’t this demonized incarnation of evil that we normally see. In fact, one of the political leaders in the town passively joins only to be put in difficult situations later, his morals and conscience tested.
This is important because it allows the viewer to understand how the Nazis crept into power, and how passive involvement and acceptance helped aid its rise. It is also important to see what the average person can do to fight this, whether its simply standing up for the rights of individuals or joining forces in a resistance movement.
Keep this in mind the next time you see someone sporting a swastika so brazenly in America.
As a historical film, this is important, not just for Germany but for elsewhere. The fact that it is German means it is untainted with American sensibilities or its cultural biases. It is a story for humanity, offering us the benefit of 20/20 hindsight in the historical context.
The film is well done, with Friedel’s ever sympathetic portrayal of the doomed Esler. He is balanced by Katharina Schüttler as Elsa, Esler’s lover and mother of his child. They keep the film grounded in a human context, juxtaposing their charming history with the oppressive rule later on.
So even if you get annoyed with foreign films that require you to read subtitles, even if you don’t particularly like world cinema, even if you think this reconciliation of the German collective soul is for Germany to handle and no one else, you should take a moment to consider “13 Minutes.” Because here in America, we have self-proclaimed Nazis, carrying Nazi flags and chanting Nazi slogans out in the open on our streets.
We need a stark reminder of what evil can come of this, and the risks that the average person takes – and should take – to fight against the attempt to raise this power again.