Jew Suss: Rise and Fall "Jud Suss" (2010) dir. Oskar Roehler
Starring: Tobias Moretti, Moritz Bleibtreu and Martina Gedeck
By Blair Stewart
In 1939 Austrian actor Ferdinand Marian got in bed with Joseph Goebbels to make the National Socialist version of "Jew Suss" and paid a far heavier price than fame.
As played by Tobias Moretti for a vain fool who cracks under the weight of Nazi-influenced pressure, Marian succumbed to the same temptations as the fictional star of István Szabó's "Mephisto" (or as the famed Dutsch performer Gustaf Gründgens did in real life to which the book and film were based). It's all so wonderful; the fame and the girls and the rallies and the parties and whatnot, it would be a real shame if we lost the war, you know?
Taking examples from other European performers' lives who were torn asunder by the undesirable status of their bloodlines, director and co-writer Oskar Roehler lays on the melodrama thickly for the doomed life of Marian. His wife Anna (Martina Gedeck) is secretly a Jew, and Marian himself is flush with guilt from his swordsman reputation towards his comely fans. Ferdinand is no match for the recruitment prowess of the Propaganda Minister Goebbels when he comes casting, and so Marian allows himself to become a victim of history by appearing in the titular role (according to diaries Marian held out on the role for over a year).
For those not familiar with the infamy of the 1940 Veit Harlan version of "Jew Suss", it was to anti-semetism what sugar is to a kid's energy level: fuel.
Now this right here is a great story:
You have human tragedy on both a minor and a grand scale. You have vanity, personal deceit, professional duty and the crushing weight of history.
You've got the seduction of evil, true evil in the persona of Herr Goebbels, better know as Hitler's talking head.
You have the cinema and the manipulation of truth through storytelling to breed madness.
You put this in the hands of a great filmmaker and the film takes off like a rocket. Unfortunately Oskar Roehler is not that filmmaker, and "Jew Suss: Rise and Fall" is not that film. It begins as a stiff monochrome effort in the guise of studio dramas from the late 1930-40s and never moves beyond it. Despite the fine performances including Moritz Bleibtreu as a Goebbels who makes you want to mop the floor clean after he's walked by, nothing new is brought to the table. We could just as well be watching Gründgens or Harlan's story and because Ferdinand Marian is presented in the opening as a weak prick I felt only mild pity when he died a weaker prick in the end.
This material is the stuff of epics, and the debacle of Goebbels reign deserves a bigger stage.