Reviews for March 3rd, 2010
Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss
Directed by Felix Moeller.
In German, French and Italian with subtitles. This provocative documentary focuses on the life and work of Veit Harlan, a German film director commissioned by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in the late 1930’s to direct the Nazi propaganda film Jew Süss . Many people all across Europe flocked to the cinemas to few Harlan’s film and, on top of that, Heinrich Himmler mandated SS members and policemen to watch it. The real question that arises is whether and how the SS officers’ perspectives on the Jews were affected by the film, but as Harlan’s niece, Christiane Kubrick, Stanley Kubrick’s wife, wisely and honesty comments, there’s no way for anyone to truly know the answer to that question. After the World War II, Harlan was charged with crimes against humanity for making that anti-Semitic film and was subsequently acquitted, of those crimes. However, the Harlan’s role in aiding Nazi propaganda has scarred his family from generation to generation. He never acknowledged his wrong doings or asked for forgiveness, even on his death bed while on the island of Capri. Director Felix Moeller combines interviews with Harlan’s kin along with archival footage of interviews with Harlan himself, footage from his propaganda films, namely,Jew Süss and The Golden City, as well as from post-War films that were met with many protests and less financial success. It bothers Harlan’s son, Thomas, that his father continued to make movies after the War and that the judge who acquitted him, twice, had previously sentenced a woman to be beheaded for merely stealing an article of clothing. Interestingly, Kristian, another of Harlan’s sons, says that what he thinks of his father shouldn’t be something that’s shared with the public—it’s simply ought to remain a private matter. He hits the nail on the head when he observes, "Film has always been subverted into propaganda. These days all the way games and films are sponsored by the American military. They finance and produce war games so as to requisition people. Little has changed.” Naomi Wolf, author of the insightful nonfiction book The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, about the steps that all would-be dictators (such as George W. Bush) take to close down a democracy, would most likely nod her head in agreement with that perceptive observation. Most importantly, though, director Felix Moeller asks tough, complex, important questions for Harlan’s family to answer, such as whether or not Harlan was anti-Semitic and what motivated him to make Jew Süss to begin with. Christiane Kubrick states that he cared about the technical aspects of the film and about pleasing Goebbels, but she doesn’t think that he even imagined that it would lead to the horrors of the Holocaust. Harlan’s granddaughter, Jessica Jacoby, believes that his motivations were not driven by fear or being forced to make the films; his top priority was to continue directing films and to ensure that his next films would also be commissioned. Those as well as other interviews shed a very intriguing light on Harlan’s motivations and how it has profoundly affected each of Harlan’s family members, some of whom have changed their names, until this very day. Future generations will inevitably also live in his shadow and have to face the harsh, horrific truth of their ancestor. At a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss is a provocative, illuminating and intriguing documentaryNumber of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Zeitgeist Films. Opens at the Film Forum.