Harlan - in the Shadow of 'Jew Suss': Movie Review

By Peter Rainer Film critic | The Christian Science Monitor, March 12, 2010 | Go to article overview

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. …

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