Perhaps it was the success of Quentin Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS that finally prompted the DVD release of Dani Levy's devastatingly brilliant flight of mordant fantasy, MEIN FUHRER, in the
It's the waning days of World War II and Hitler (Helge Schneider) is suffering from malaise. Ill-health, daddy issues, and depression have taken their collective toll. Joseph Goebbels (played by Sylvester Groth with droll malevolence), needing the fiery Hitler of old to invigorate the German people for a New Year's rally, turns to the one person he thinks can save the day for the Third Reich. That would be Hitler's former acting coach, Adolph Grunwald (Ulrich Muhe, from THE LIVES OF OTHERS). There's a catch, though. Grunwald is a Jew, and he's in a concentration camp. That Goebbels doesn’t see this as an obstacle, unless Grunwald is dead, bespeaks the cognitive disassociation that the film will examine at length.
Grunwald, with nothing more to lose except a life that is intolerable, agrees to participate in Goebbels’ scheme, using the unexpected bit of power to toy with the Nazis, using, among other devices, the drama lessons to bring Hitler, literally, to his knees. While at the same time he is painfully struggling with the moral and political dilemma of killing Hitler while they are alone. Wouldn't another take his place immediately, perhaps someone more competent? And what of the ethics of killing another human being, even a monster, who has become so pathetically impotent on every level that it leads to the oddest image in the film? The one where Hitler, addled and lonely, wanders into Grunwald's bed late one night so that he won't have to sleep alone.
This is a film that covers a broad spectrum of absurdity, not all of it comfortable for the audience, but deadly accurate in hitting its target. Garish colors and oversized perspective place this firmly in the realm of satirical fantasy, yet amid the cartoonish insanity of the Nazis around him, Muhe maintains the reality of someone who is considered a worm and worse by his captors. It's that balance that gives the film its bite, and turns it into a brilliantly funny indictment of the Nazis and those who allowed them to flourish, rather than a light entertainment. These Nazis have murderous intent, but they are also drowning is a sea of paperwork and protocol that can and does provoke them into turning on one another over the tendering of the correct form. Even when the Nazis are attempting to be nice to Muhe, explaining that the final solution is nothing personal against him, a refrain heard throughout the film, they offer the starving Muhe a sandwich with ham, the which is politely accepts and then attempts to dispose of with the help of Hitler's beloved dog, Blondie.
Levy creates his comedic madhouse with intelligence, and by subverting expectations, large and small, at every turn. The image of Grunbaum, newly plucked from his concentration camp's work detail, being marched naked into the camp's shower. The audience knows from intro that this is flashback, that this is not Grunbaum's end, but the fear he Muhe shows while maintaining his dignity, is perfectly palpable. When water, not gas, emerges from the showerhead, the instinct is to laugh and Levy knows it as he dares to tweak one of the most gruesome images of the 20th century and succeeds.
The DVD release of MEIN FUHRER, exquisitely subtitled THE TRULY TRUEST TRUTH ABOUT ADOLPH HITLER, features a statement by Levy that is both thoughtful and provocative, taking to task those who would present a "realistic," as he puts it, view of the Holocaust. Instead, he makes the case for comedy being a better vehicle for presenting it in a way that is truer than fact. Not even Steven Spielberg escapes his criticism. Reflecting Levy's theory, the film begins with Grunwald's narration insisting that the story he is going to tell is true, so true, he insists, that it may never appear in a history book. And that's a shame, because it explains so much more than mere facts ever could, and is a whole lot more fun than a textbook that is shackled to the facts.