The People vs. Fritz Bauer has lots of drama, not enough tension — a film review

September 16, 2016

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The People vs. Fritz Bauer presents the story of Attorney General Fritz Bauer, a Jew on a quest to prosecute the crimes of the Third Reich, as he was also briefly in a concentration camp, at one point. The action is set in motion when he learns that Adolf Eichmann, a lieutenant colonel responsible for mass deportations, is not only alive but living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. To be sure, Eichmann is one of the worst Nazi officials, and in today’s political climate it would be hard to imagine that his prosecution would be riddled with difficulties, yet as this film shows, even in the late 1950s the political climate in Germany was not as progressive as it is today.

Strong performances carry this important if flawed movie. Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) is intelligent and clever. Klaussner brings intensity to the role, as Bauer tries to uncover the truth. The character is reminiscent of a Sherlock Holmes combined with Columbo. The man is unstoppable as he encounters plenty of roadblocks on his quest to uncover the truth and go after Eichmann. His relentless personality is the one saving grace as Bauer encounters push back being portrayed in the public arena as unsympathetic, while he tries to prosecute former war criminals. To add insult to injury, Bauer also finds that international agencies charged with defending the public are less than cooperative. Indeed, the Germany portrayed here has not only not dealt with the past but still has many former Nazi officials in public service positions and in the higher echelons of the social strata.

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Director Lars Kraume presents a definitive point of view in this historical saga. He makes the case that atrocities do not end after they are committed. Instead, they leave an indelible mark on all those who bear the suffering or are witnesses to it. Although films on the evils of Nazism abound (only last year we reviewed Labyrinth of Lies, about a prosecutor who worked under Bauer) what The People vs. Fritz Bauer does differently is present the homophobic dimension felt during the Third Reich. The film goes into Paragraph 175, a legal codification that sentenced anyone displaying gay behavior to prison sentences that were unduly harsh.

Because the film is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kraume makes the point that the end of the war did not mean the end of an ideology or a way of life. There are path-dependent consequences to the Nazi regime that were lived and felt long after the end of the war. It takes not only indignation but also consistent work to undo the evils of the past. Although it is a strong point of view, cinematically, The People vs. Fritz Bauer falls short of making this an exciting thriller. There is a great story to be told here, and in fact the German accolades prove that this is an important film, as it won 6 LOLA Awards (these are the German Film Awards) including Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay. Still, one can think of more accomplished films like Argo or Bridge of Spies, where the editing and camera work kept the tension mounted. In this film, it is up to the screenplay and the performances to do that and for a visual medium this is simply not enough.

Ana Morgenstern

The People vs. Fritz Bauer runs 105 minutes and is rated R. It opens on Sept. 16 and will be playing in our South Florida area at MDC’s Tower Theatre, O Cinema Miami Beach, the Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood, Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth. For national listings please visit here. Images in this post and a screener was supplied by Cohen Media for the purposes of this review.

(Copyright 2016 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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