13 Minutes, written by Léonie-Claire and Fred Breinersdorfer, isn’t bad. In a strange way, it might be perfect in its mediocrity. It is all very well told of a story of a forgotten hero, Georg Elser, a fiercely independent and out-of-luck assassin of the Führer. Not a scene missing. Not a sequence misplaced. But it’s just not that good. Except reminding us yet again the lives destroyed in WWII (which is in itself a tireless subject matter), Oliver Hirschbiegel’s return to German history since his celebrated Downfall is more of a repetition than utterance. (PTS: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Peier Shen
The story unfolds with the bomb at Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch and a failed escape of the assassin. "Georg Elser" (Christian Friedel), now captured and imprisoned, traces the events that lead to this point. The movie flashes back to 1932 when he is just a provincial fellow who plays the accordion and chases after girls. Of course that doesn’t last for long. Soon his father’s abuse of alcohol and the slow, albeit encroaching, influence of the Nazi leaves him homeless. The rise of the Nazi was treated with a delicate restraint: at first, there was only a couple of Nazi soldiers disturbing their tavern, then the whole town was taken over, poisoned, like a disease.
Not to forget the typical romance in the making of a hero, Georg Elser falls hopelessly in love with a married but domestically abused woman, "Elsa" (Katharina Schüttler). These scenes of courtship are treated as an antidote for the audience, when the director plunges us back into the interrogation scenes, each time more gruesome and bloodier than before. Georg’s insistence on him acting on his own only infuriates the head of SS, "Heinrich Müller" (Johann von Bülow), who is under pressure to produce a conspiracy narrative. And the “good” German, police chief "Arthur Nebe" (Burghart Klaußner), who later turns out to play a part in another assassination attempt against Hitler, is also pressed to get a confession, which is supplied after Georg was threatened with Elsa’s life.
So here it lies—all the elements equipped to resurrect a hero. A hero not of any political party but of himself. A hero of an independent mind. We watch and accept it with applause, especially towards the sacrifice made in history. However, Hirschbiegel’s attempt at uncovering as a narrative, as a film, is dull. Nothing stands out. There is the problem with the portrayal of the hero—a clichéd interpretation of the transformation from buoyant boyhood to responsible adult. Regrettably not unlike any superhero origin stories. There is the typical bad versus good binary throughout the interrogation scene. Even the somewhat graphic torture sequences add little but shock values to further confirm the extent of injury the Nazi brought upon its people. Moreover, the ideology of individualism upheld by Georg is treated so matter-of-factly, so distantly, that we only think of it almost as a remote concept on required readings in Philosophy 101.
The redeeming point being that Christian Friedel carries the film through. His subtleties in portraying the growth of Georg give continuity and dimensions to an otherwise sporadic biopic. Cocky and insolent when young, and later, crushed by the full burden of ideologies, party interests, and loss. What is to be remembered is at the very end—imprisoned, without hope, and emaciated, Georg plays the song, brought by his prison guard. Now music is no longer the carefree expression of youth but a glimpse of solace of the condemned and the lonely. And all that transformation is captured through the well-calculated mannerism of a trained and experienced actor: a twitch of brow and an unwarranted gurgle.
That being said, Friedel could be better supported by his peers. We get only some fleeting impressions of friends and family. Many potentially interesting characters come and go without leaving much of an impact onto the story, including Georg’s radical double, his friend, "Josef Schurr" (David Zimmerschied) and the morally ambivalent Nebe. Thus much of the personal drama relies on the romance between Elsa and Georg, their chemistry, unfortunately uncertain, further questioned by scenes of his previous philandering and the lack of depiction of her. Why? Why Elsa? And how do they fall in love? Those are not good questions for the audience to have, when one aims to depict undying love.
Still, 13 Minutes is interesting in its pure belief—the individual, unclouded by political propaganda, has the sound judgment to decide what he or she believes in. And in our current political climate, isn’t such a film a respectable attempt to remind us of our very own civil duties? Yet, as a film, it’s merely passing. If film is to be about revelation—not to just inform but to enlighten a particular experience, 13 Minutes, which could’ve been about so much more, miserably merges with all the others that deal with The Third Reich, undistinguishable and struggling to have a voice.
Middle Photo: Katharina Schüttler as Elsa and Christian Friedel
Bottom Photo: Felix Eitner as Hans Eberle, Katharina Schüttler, and Christian Friedel
Photo Credit: Bernd Schuller
Q: Does 13 Minutes pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Elsa does talk to some girl friends about some trivialities, though the conversation is shallow and unmemorable.