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Germans ask of Hitler film: Funny or revolting?

Germans awoke on Thursday to Hitler's face on posters advertising a new comedy by Swiss filmmaker Dani Levy, a shocking sight in the country haunted by the Holocaust and its belligerent past.
Director Dani Levy and actor Helge Schneider, right, stand on the red carpet prior a limited premiere of the movie "Mein Fuehrer" in Essen, Germany, on Tuesday. Schneider plays Hitler in the controversial satire. Martin Meissner / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Hitler is back.

Germans awoke on Thursday to the Nazi dictator’s face on posters advertising a new comedy by Swiss filmmaker Dani Levy, a shocking sight in the country haunted by the Holocaust and its belligerent past.

Jewish leaders in Germany assailed the taboo-breaking farce that mocks Adolf Hitler before its world premiere on Thursday and many critics panned the film, which has received massive advance media coverage this week, as simply not funny.

“Levy is guilty of gross negligence,” said Stephan Kramer, a leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany about the production by the Swiss-born Jewish filmmaker: “My Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler.”

“The film is superficial, superfluous and even dangerous,” he wrote in Die Zeit newspaper. “In light of the fact that the Nazis killed millions of people, I can’t laugh about it.”

Worth laughing about?
The film by Levy, whose mother fled the Nazis, opened with a relatively wide release in 250 theatres. It sparked a national debate — which distributors reckon will boost its box office — hinged on the question: Are Germans allowed to laugh at Hitler?

“It’s just hard for me to laugh about Hitler,” Ralph Giordano, 83, a top German-Jewish author told n-tv television. “There’s no ban on satire about Hitler here. But based on all I’ve heard about this film, it’s a flop, totally off the mark.”

Levy, 48, portrays Hitler as a bed wetter with erectile problems in a fictional story of a Jewish acting coach named Adolf Gruenbaum who is plucked out of a concentration camp to coach Hitler, despondent about the war, for a New Year’s speech.

Hitler is having a bad day. His stylist accidentally cuts off half of his trademark moustache and he loses his voice screaming at her. He wets his pajamas, loses all confidence and suffers further humiliation by his impotence with Eva Braun.

Many critics panned the film, saying it was not funny.

“First you laugh, then you think, and then you cry,” wrote Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper critic Volker Behrens.

“Levy tries to make Hitler look ridiculous but as a political satire the film doesn’t work,” wrote Focus magazine.

There were mostly cheers and only a smattering of jeers at premiere screenings in Essen and  Berlin this week.

One critic: 'Surprisingly entertaining'
Bild, Germany’s best-selling daily, asked in its headline on Thursday: “Is the Hitler film funny or revolting?”

But Bild critic Gernot Gricksch wrote: “Even if Levy’s Nazi farce with its flaws falls short of past films by Charlie Chaplin and Ernst Lubitsch ... it is courageous, funny, bitterly evil — and surprisingly entertaining.”

Stefan Arndt, the film’s producer, said he and Levy were braced for a tidal wave of negative reaction. But the film has already aroused buying interest from distributors abroad.

Michael Wolffsohn, a leading Jewish voice in Germany and history professor in Munich, told the Netzeitung online newspaper there was one simple reason the film was made.

“Who apart from someone wanting to make money out of Hitler needs to turn him into a laughing stock?” Wolffsohn asked. “You can tell that’s the real motive, and it’s upsetting.”