Harlan - in the Shadow of 'Jew Suss': Movie Review
Peter Rainer Film critic, The Christian Science Monitor
'Harlan' explores a German filmmaker's Nazi-era propaganda movie and its effect on the extended family down the years.
The viciously anti-Semitic 1940 German movie "Jew Suss" is one
of the most notorious films ever made. Produced under the aegis of
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who made the film required
viewing for the SS, and directed by Veit Harlan, it premiered at the
Venice Film Festival - a festival that was the brainchild of
Mussolini - and was seen by some 20 million German moviegoers and
another 20 million throughout the rest of Europe. Today it is one of
the few Nazi-era films that still cannot legally be shown.
The documentary "Harlan - In the Shadow of 'Jew Suss,' "
written and directed by Felix Moeller, chronicles the history of
Harlan's film and its effect on his extended family down through
the years. By focusing primarily on Harlan's children and
grandchildren, Moeller transforms what might have been mere cultural
scholarship into something larger - a microcosm of postwar German
guilt and redemption.
Harlan, who was not a member of the Nazi Party, was the only
"artist" from the Nazi era to be charged with war crimes. Using
the I-was-only-following-orders defense, he twice was exonerated. He
died in Capri, Italy, in 1964, and in the interim directed a dozen
more films in Germany. He never publicly expressed remorse for having
made "Jew Suss," from which Moeller - the son of famed German
director Margarethe von Trotta - shows ample, nauseating clips.
A full-scale historical drama set in the 18th century, "Jew
Suss" is the story of a Jew who passes himself off as Christian
while corrupting a local duke, enslaving the citizenry with high
taxes, and forcing himself upon a beautiful, married Christian woman
(played by Kristina Soderbaum, a beloved German movie star and
Harlan's third wife). While not as deliriously, mystically Teutonic
as Leni Riefenstahl's infamous "Triumph of the Will," "Jew
Suss" was, in some ways, even more insidious because it was more
straightforward and accessible. …