Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sympathy for the Devil

It's a special sort of film that can not only make you feel sorry for Adolph Hitler but root for him as well.

Not Chancellor Hitler of course. Only sketch comedy or idiot adolescents would go there. But Corporal Hitler, that nebbishy Austrian with pretensions of being a great artist, that's someone you can work with. Which Max does brilliantly.

Set in Munich not long after the Great War, Max is really about this guy named Max - oddly enough. A wealthy Jewish art promoter who left his arm in Ypres and his marbles somewhere else. Max is one of those types who craves "realness" in art, which gives him all sorts of artsy angst from having to deal with the hollowness of modern art in his gallery and the wealthy patrons with all the aesthetic sensibilities of a bowel of porridge.

"It fills me with ennui... And tobacco."

Enter young Adolph. He approaches Max at one of the latter's many swanky soirees to pester him about displaying his artwork. Max rebuffs the twitchy little man at first but, after catching a glimpse of the proto-fascist doodlings, comes to believe this Hitler boy has some real talent - despite his blatant anti-semitism.

So Max tries to bring Hitler into the art world. A Herculean effort, as the Austrian's every personal quality is antithetical to the vapid, Dadaist nonsense of the High Art scene in the interwar period - demonstrated best when Max puts on a full performance piece about soldiers being fed into a sausage grinder. Most of the audience is confused and put out, but Max's buddy Adolph is furious! He takes the dig at the nation and the military quite personally because, well, he's a frikin' fascist.

"I don't know how you keep forgetting that..."
And that's what Max finds so "authentic" about the angry twerp. He encourages Hitler's visions because he believes it to be the unvarnished inner world of the Common Man which, if we're honest, it kinda is. Parallel to all this, we follow Hitler's falling in with a reactionary movement of soldiers - very authentic and very common but more interested in murdering rich Jews like Max than getting into his artsy circle of friends. By the end, it all comes to quite a brutal head...

But what really makes Max work is Noah Taylor's performance. He does Adolph Hitler as a full human being - vulnerable, indecisive, craving a real human connection - but he never loses sight of how Hitler's entire sense of self was defined by his reactionary politics. When Max confronts him about the speeches he's been making at political rallies, Hitler defends it as another form of performance art. That may be arguable, but he really does come alive when whipping up a crowd - nothing like his awkward stutterings among the well-to-do artists.

Max is a fantastic film. Not just for humanizing history's greatest monster but for it's clear look at Inter-War Germany - how poor and dispossessed Common Men set the world on fire while the rich liberals were all busy contemplating their navels.

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