13 Minutes Resets Time-Bomb of Fascism

Movie Review: 13 Minutes

Oliver Hirschbiegel returns to the land of the brown shirts to extract another timely lesson about the role of the individual in this detailed portrait of the man who nearly assassinated Adolf Hitler

13 Minutes

(Elser)

3.5/5

Starring: Christian Friedel, Burghart Klaußner, Katharina Schüttler

Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Running time: 1hr 54 mins

MPAA Rating: Restricted

In German with English subtitles

By Katherine Monk

On November 8, 1939, a lone German tried to kill Hitler by planting a bomb in the Munich beer hall where he was scheduled to speak. The bomb detonated. Half the roof collapsed on top of the lectern. Several people were killed, but Hitler escaped unscathed because he left — unexpectedly — 13 minutes early.

The crucial time gap gives Oliver Hirschbiegel’s new movie its English title, but the original German title is Elser — after Georg Elser, the lone bomber largely forgotten by history. Elser was an ordinary German from a small mountain town in the Swabian region, typically known for its sweet villages and folklore as it nests near the Danube and Black Forest. Elser was a handsome and talented member of the community who could fix things, make furniture and seduce the local ladies with his sense of humour.

He was not political. Yet, something compelled him to the most extreme of political acts: the attempted assassination of a sitting leader. What happened in the heart of Georg Elser that clearly did not happen in the hearts of so many others? That was the question that preoccupied producer Boris Ausserer and authors Léonie-Claire and Fred Breinersdorfer.

What caused him to risk his own life in the pursuit of taking another’s?

It’s a complex question that explores the gears and cogs of everyday moral processes, which is sort of how this new movie from Hirschbiegel unfolds. Returning to a familiar setting after giving us Downfall — one of the most detailed dramatizations of Hitler’s final days — Hirschbiegel opens the movie in a sort of timeless, dreamy, space as Elser and his friends jump in the clear blue waters of the so-called ‘Bodensee,’ a.k.a Lake Constance.

It’s summer. Love is blooming. Georg steals kisses with a woman named Elsa. It’s close to pre-Raphaelite perfection, a picture postcard of Alpine bliss. Hirschbiegel plays with these idyllic scenes, quietly nodding to the ‘Heimat’ films of the 1950s that purposefully turned a blind eye to political realities in favour of kitsch mountain vistas and cobblestone streets.

It’s an interesting twist of form, because in the very same opening sequence, he shows us Georg laboriously planting the bomb in the beer hall. We can feel the mechanism of something larger unwinding, we’re just not too sure what it is.

Hirschbiegel plays with the suspense, moving backward and forward in time, trying to isolate the pivotal moment in the mind of an ordinary man, as well as the sinkhole forming in the German psyche.

We watch as his friends are imprisoned for their socialist ideals. We sit back and witness how the town matron, and Nazi supporter, is eventually thrown into the middle of the town square with a sign strung around her neck reading “Jew.”

Hirschbiegel plays with the suspense, moving backward and forward in time, trying to isolate the pivotal moment in the mind of an ordinary man, as well as the sinkhole forming in the German psyche.

The visual cues are familiar, but the point of view is not — which is why 13 Minutes avoids all sense of cliche and takes us into the darkest parts of the human animal without ever losing its own heart, or sense of integrity.

Most surprising, this is the first-ever dramatic biopic of Elser. The only other treatment was a documentary, which disappeared into the slipstream of cinema along with Elser’s dubious achievement.

Not even the Gestapo, which eventually imprisoned Elser and tortured him for years, couldn’t believe he came so close to assassinating the Fuhrer singlehandedly. They figured he had to be some player in a larger plot, because who could have created such a precise time bomb and planted it so ingeniously without any help? They didn’t think it was possible.

Yet, Elser did it, and came so close to success it sends shivers down he spine of a 21st century viewer as we’re forced to imagine how many lives would have been spared had he succeeded. Creepier still is how close history feels when you see the cycle begin again.

A detailed and deeply researched period piece, 13 Minutes is a well-crafted and compelling historical narrative. Yet, it’s Hirschbiegel’s ability to show us human weakness and how collective neglect eventually leads to a grotesque denial of basic dignity that powers this film, and makes it a timely message about the role of the individual in a time of fascist suppression.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS, July 7, 2017

Read Katherine Monk’s movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or visit The Ex-Press archives.

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Review: 13 Minutes (Elser)

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13 Minutes: On November 8, 1939, a lone German tried to kill Hitler by planting a bomb in the Munich beer hall where he was scheduled to speak. The bomb detonated. Half the roof collapsed on top of the lectern. Several people were killed, but Hitler escaped unscathed because he left — unexpectedly — 13 minutes early. The bomber was an ordinary German carpenter named Georg Elser (Christian Friedel). He was stopped trying to cross the Swiss border, and was soon imprisoned and eventually tortured. The Nazis didn’t believe a single man could have pulled off such an elaborate plan, let alone built such a precise time-bomb. Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) returns to the land of brown shirts to extract another timely message about the role of the individual in a time of fascist suppression. - Katherine Monk

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