I have never been a fan of foreign-language films. I don’t like reading my movies. However Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 13 Minutes is so powerful that I forgot I was reading. This is a must see film for anyone who believes someone can make a difference in a political atmosphere that threatens humanity.
There are hero’s and residence fighters that go unnoticed, until one day their courage is unearthed. Johann Georg Elser is one such man. He was a German worker who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders on November 8, 1939 at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich. A time bomb that Elser constructed was placed near a speaking platform and had Hitler not left earlier than expected, it would have possibly killed him, instead it killed eight people and injured over sixty-two others. Elser was held as a prisoner for over five years until executed at the Dachau concentration camp. He never once regretted his actions.
In Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 13 Minutes, we are given a glimpse into the world of Georg Elser, a pacifist who believed more about his country, than his own life. Awakened to the rising inhumanity, he steps outside of himself to do the unthinkable. We are brought back to when World War II was just starting, and had Hitler not left early, history might have been rewritten. Christian Friedel performance as Georg is outstanding, as we see his life before and after the incident. The brutal interrogation room scenes are incredibly hard to watch.
The legacy of Nazism, is still haunting us and is relevant to todays climate. The screenplay by father-and-daughter team Fred and Leonie-Claire Breinersdorfer starts as Elser sweating and panting installs the elaborate bomb with a complex timer in the Munich beer tavern where Hitler is scheduled to appear two days later. As the clock is ticking, Elser is arrested at the Swiss border. It is under interrogation that he learns that Hitler’s left the building just 13 minutes before the explosion, which killed eight innocent people. As he is interrogated by the head of Criminal Police Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaussner) and Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller (Johann von Bulow), trying to unearth his accomplices. Georg despite the pain inflicted refuses to cooperate. The brutal beatings and torture are useless until Elsa (Katharina Schuttler), the woman Georg loved back in his hometown, is brought in and threatened, then George confesses. When he does Berlin and Hitler are unwilling to accept the fact that a lone-agent assassination attempt by a non-Jewish German carpenter.
Cinematographer Judith Kaufmann visuals help to distinguish the back and forth time frame, as we go from the past to the present. Warm colors bring the past back as the palette turns more stark when in the present. We learn how his father’s (Martin Maria Abram) drinking cost the family their farm, when Georg is summoned back to try and futilely save the family homestead. A musician and a womanizer Georg falls for Elsa who is married to the brutal and alcoholic Erich (Rudiger Klink). We see a tenderness in Georg who changes when circumstances take his new born son. Though originally apolitical his friend Josef (David Zimmerschied) tries to draw him into the Communist Party, but Georg refuses until he sees the influence of the SS closing in. Georg’s planning and execution of the assassination attempt, is seen as he maps it all for his interrogators. The conflict is the authorities refuse to believe he could have acted alone, even though expert evaluation proves that he did. Georg is even put under sodium pentothal and still is not believed. Georg is shown kindness by the interrogation-room secretary (Lissy Pernthaler), who earlier sat in silence as he is flogged, barley looking up from her book. The complacency of those who were afraid to become involved just makes Elser, even more of a hero.
David Holmes’ beautiful score adds to the cinematic effect. The movie is well acted, especially in the subtle performance of Friedel’s moving performance.
I had not known this fascinating story, which at times plods along, but it was worth every minute, to see and get to know someone this selfless. This is a must see in this political climate that threatens to divide.
Set to Open in New York March 17, 2017