Preview by: Jack Foley
ONCE Hollywood hits upon an idea - be it good or bad - the subject
tends to be done to death. Its rather like waiting for a
bus; you wait ages, then several seem to come along at once.
At the start of 2002, audiences received a glut of patriotic
mission movies, those which pitted the US against the rest of
the world, righting the wrongs of the current climate. Likewise,
towards the end, the spy genre was given a boost.
At the start of 2003, it appears that mankinds darkest
hour, The Holocaust, is the theme of choice; though whether audiences
will want to endure a flood of movies on such a harrowing subject
remains to be seen.
Previous attempts to portray it have been greeted with either
widespread acclaim and awards galore (as in Spielbergs Schindlers
List or Benignis Life Is Beautiful) or critical derision
and empty cinemas (as in Robin Williams Jakob The Liar).
First to show among the current crop is Roman Polanskis
The Pianist, which most definitely
falls into the former category, having already won the Palme dOr
at the Cannes Film Festival and being named as best film by the
National Society of Film Critics in America.
Yet, there are more to come. The Grey Zone, for example, will
explore one of the most difficult aspects of the Holocaust, the
role of the Sonderkommando (the death camp inmates charged with
guiding their fellow Jews into the gas chambers and recovering
their corpses afterwards), while Costa Gavrass Amen tells
the story of SS Officer, Kurt Gerstein, who smuggled information
about the Final Solution to the Allies.
Sobibor, meanwhile, is Claude Lanzmanns latest, a film
which began life as an interview. It tells the story of the 1943
uprising at the Sobibor death camp, as conveyed in an interview
with Yehuda Lerner.
But perhaps the most controversial movie to emerge from the current
crop is Max, starring John Cusack, which takes a hypothetical
look at the life of Adolf Hitler before he came to power, and
asks the ultimate question, what if?
Cusack stars as a fictional German Jewish art dealer, Max Rothman,
who becomes involved with an aspiring artist, namely Hitler, years
before his ascent to power; while the film considers the question
of whether Hitler could have channelled his rage into the canvas
and refrained from the path he eventually took.
Needless to say, the film caused a storm in certain quarters
of America, with many calling for audiences to boycott it.
Cusack, however, remains fiercely protective of it. In an interview
with Empire Online, for instance, he says that the film doesn't
condone or sympathise with Hitler
it just looks at him as
a complex human being. An evil one, but a human being nonetheless."
It took producer, Andras Harmori, 18 months to secure financing
for the project, with London-based Pathé International
investing the first portion and he remains indebted to the stern
commitment of Cusack, who took no salary for his work on the film.
Max subsequently debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and drew
considerable acclaim, although it continues to anger many people.
New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, branded the film a cynical
exploitation, while the Jewish Defence League launched a campaign
to block Lions Gate, the film's American distributor, from releasing
An official for the group, Brett Stone, declared on their website,
that not only is the film in bad taste, it is also a psychic
assault on Holocaust survivors and the entire Jewish community.
His statement adds: "There is no moral justification for
making such a movie. To glorify or humanize Hitler makes a mockery
of the 12 million - 6 million of them Jewish - victims of Hitler's
tyranny ... This is not art! This is obscenity!"
Cusack, for his part, remained perplexed that many of the people
criticising the film had not even bothered to see it before commenting.
Critics in America, however, refused to jump on board the hysteria
and appear to have judged it on its own merits.
The New York Times described it as fascinating and
psychologically credible, while Hollywood Reporter
felt that it makes connections and provokes ideas worth
E! Online awarded it a B and said that it was a
fine, oddly intriguing movie, while Film Threat announced
that for Cusack
this is a tour de force.
LA Weekly, however, felt that it contained one idea
too many by a writer-director with a penchant for going over the
top, while Slant Magazine felt that it was smothered
and crippled by Meyjes's tedious dissertation on the art.
Entertainment Weekly, however, felt that it challenges
this nervy oddity like modern art should, while BoxOffice
Magazine felt that it is a smart, provocative drama
that does the nearly impossible: It gets under the skin of a man
we only know as an evil, monstrous lunatic.
The Los Angeles Daily News, however, concludes this round-up,
stating that it's provocative stuff, but the speculative
effort is hampered by [Noah] Taylor's cartoonish performance and
the film's ill-considered notion that Hitler's destiny was shaped
by the most random of chances.