Germanys First Nazi Comedy Meet Hitler, the Bed-Wetting Drug Addict
German cinema breaks new ground in January with its first comedy about Hitler. Jewish director Dani Levy is following in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin, maker of "The Great Dictator," with a decidedly unsympathetic portrayal of Hitler as a bed-wetting drug addict who is making the world suffer for his beatings as a child.
Hitler likes to play with his toy battleship in the bath, wets his bed, cant get an erection and is addicted to drugs he keeps in his giant globe, according to Germanys first comedy about the Führer, made by Jewish director Dani Levy.
"Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler," which received public funding, opens in January and fits a recent trend in Germany to break new ground in dealing with its Nazi history. It follows the 2004 movie "The Downfall," one of the first German films to show Hitler up close and personal.
A German-made farce about Hitler would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. But the passage of time and the gradual dying out of the Nazi-era generation have given the country a more detached view of its past.
Swiss director Levy says he wants to follow in the tradition of Charlie Chaplins 1940 classic "The Great Dictator," and to take a tongue-in-cheek look at the theory that Hitler was taking revenge on the world for being beaten by his father.
Levy, who won critical acclaim for his 2004 comedy " Alles Auf Zucker" about Jewish people in post-unification Germany, sees nothing wrong with a tragicomic approach to the Holocaust. "I don't want to give this cynical, psychological wreck of a person the honor of a realistic portrayal," he says in a statement.
And indeed he doesnt. In the film, Hitler, played by comedian Helge Schneider -- who imitates the Führers clipped, gutteral speech -- crawls around his giant Chancellery office on all fours barking like his pet Alsatian Blondi, whom he has taught to make the Hitler salute and has dressed in a little SS uniform.
"Don't take the final solution personally"
Heres the plot. Its late 1944. Hitler has lost faith in himself and a desperate Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels summons former Jewish acting coach Adolf Grünbaum from a concentration camp to get the dictator back in shape for a mass rally to reinvigorate the German people.
"Don't take the final solution personally," Goebbels tells an emaciated Grünbaum as the professor arrives in the Chancellery surrounded by Nazi officials who keep whipping out their arms in deafening "Heil Hitler!" salutes every few seconds.
Successive attempts by Grünbaum to kill Hitler fail, so he resigns himself to giving the troubled dictator acting lessons and eventually turns into a kind of psychiatrist, discovering that the dictator can't get over the fact that he could never please his strict father.
Lying on the couch of his grand office, Hitler recalls a disturbing childhood incident. "My father once gave me a catapult. He looked up and told me 'Kill that pigeon!' I fired and the pigeon landed at his feet, stone dead. 'That was a fluke,' he said, and walked off." Tears keep trickling down his face.
Another scene shows an embarrassed looking Hitler lying on top of Eva Braun who says "I can't feel you Mein Führer."
At the end of the film, Hitler's barber accidentally shaves off half his little moustache, sending the dictator into a violent rage which causes him to lose his voice minutes before he is due to hold his speech. Grünbaum has to take over ...
Behind all the gags its evident that Levy has a serious message. He said he was inspired by a theory that Hitler was making the world suffer because of his unhappy childhood. "The 'analytical journey' Hitler embarks on with his 'therapist' Grünbaum is based on true material," said Levy. "I have been wondering for a long time why nobody made a film about this link, in the form of a drama or a comedy."
"Comedy is more subversive than tragedy"
Levy has criticized Steven Spielbergs "Schindlers List" for trying to give a realistic portrayal of the Holocaust. He prefers Italian director Roberto Benignis approach with his 1997 tragicomedy "Life is Beautiful" about a Jewish mans struggle to help his son survive in a concentration camp. "Benigni never made an attempt to claim his portrayal of the period and the horror was realistic. Benigni ventured onto another level. He uses a poetic fairytale set in a concentration camp to recount how a childs phantasies are indestructible.
Using phantasy and fable may come closer to explaining the era, says Levy. "Comedy is more subservise than tragedy. It can assert things that arent possible in an authentic, serious portrayal."
Interest in the Nazi era has been surging in Germany in recent years, with a host of feature films, documentaries and books exploring the era. Some of them have been controversial, highlighting the plight of Germans in Allied aerial bombing or in the mass evictions from what is now Poland and the Czech Republic after World War II.
While there has been a popular comic series about Hitler by cartoonist Walter Moers, a film comedy about Hitler is new and is creating strong interest.
The filming in Berlin already caused a stir. In March, Levy decked out Berlins central Lustgarten square in giant swastika banners and hired hundreds of extras to wave swastika and cheer "Heil Hitler" for his final scene. Passing tourists and Berliners alike were aghast.