My Führer Lacks Gall


Round up the sacred cows! The German National Socialist Party, previously the unassailable bastion of political legitimacy, is coming down a peg!

It’s 124 days before the suicide of Adolf Hitler. The Allied vise tightens. Demoralization roils. Minister of Public Enlightenment Joe Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) hopes to prop up morale by staging a ’45 Comeback Special for Der Führer, a rally in gutted Berlin, Albert Speer stage-dressed to look as if the bombs never fell.

The Hope of a Nation, however, is remote, harried, bedwetting, cloistered in his vast office. Wearing the mustache is Helge Schneider, a well-known squirmy-surrealist comic, moving like he has left the hanger in his jacket and speaking in a burbling and clucking Deutsch. The conceit of Dani Levy’s My Führer is that the only man who can bring back the old-time Sturm und Drang is Hitler’s old vocal coach, a onetime celebrity and current Jewish resident of the Sachsenhausen camp, Herr Professor Adolf Israel Grünbaum (Ulrich Mühe).

Levy makes a visual gag of Hitler taking the couch before his Jewish instructor-cum-analyst, then proceeds to apply Psych 101 nostrums to his subject. A scene of impotent failure with Frau Braun is checklist stuff—noodle-dick Fascists were a cliché well before 1970’s The Conformist. “Boldly humanizing” Hitler is a tradition dating back at least to a creaky ’62 biopic with Richard Basehart (and more recently: Downfall, Max, Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest . . .).

In Germany, My Führer produced the expected dull flutter of controversy when commentators who should know better snapped the bait and played inadvertent press agents of moral condemnation. Ignoring that Levy seems to absolve dummkopf Hitler of knowledge about his camps, the main taboo busted by My Führer is cinematic: “Thou shalt not bore the audience.” I chuckled approximately once during this “blistering satire,” when Hitler dropped his German shepherd headfirst out a window. This was actually unexpected, therefore funnier than that same German shepherd pissing on and humping Der Führer—what’s “subversive” in making an Ubu Roi piñata out of History’s Most Despised Man?

German politics didn’t stop providing fodder after 1945—c.f. the ’80s Greens bringing potted plants to parliamentary meetings—but Levy prefers his targets Hindenburg-size. It’s all in keeping with the redefinition of satire as an easy-peasy tool to reinforce rather than rile. At the postscript, a rear-guard defense to deflect claims of historical inaccuracy, Führer finally vaults from commonplace degenerate comedy to impertinent, ass-covering persiflage.