Berlinale 2015: Oliver Hirschbiegel's New WWII Thriller '13 Minutes'
by Alex Billington
February 12, 2015
If only he had 13 more minutes, the world would be an entirely different place. The new film from German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Das Experiment, Downfall, The Invasion), titled 13 Minutes, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this week. It's a solid thriller that tells the true story of carpenter Georg Elser, a resistance fighter who designed a bomb and attempted to kill Hitler in 1939, but was unsuccessful by only 13 minutes. It feels very much like Germany's response to The Imitation Game, highlighting an individual who tried to impact WWII for the better and wasn't recognized by his country for many years. It's also everything that Valkyrie should've been, but wasn't, and explores Georg's life leading up to and after the bombing.
I'm not sure why so many critics are out to hate this film, but it's certainly not bad by any means (contrary to what some might be claiming). It's not perfect either, but it is a well-made film telling a stellar story of resistance that profiles a man who refused to give in to the hate around him. I was most impressed by how heartfelt and hopeful some moments are amidst the evil surrounding everyone and everything at that time. Georg didn't want to hurt anyone, and was beloved by all those in the town he lived in. He saw how terrible Hitler was and how much the Nazi party was deceiving its people, and wanted to stop it for everyone, for good, before it lead to the inevitable end - the deaths of millions and millions of people including Germans.
He was, of course, unsuccessful in killing Hitler and the film doesn't waste too much time building up his failed bombing. Unlike Valkyrie (which I reference because it's another thriller about a failed attempt to bomb Hitler) the film shows the bombing first, and jumps right into the rest of the story through a narrative structure that involves flashbacks while Georg is being questioned/tortured by the Gestapo. We get to learn about the love of his life, Elsa played by Katharina Schüttler, and watch as the Nazi party begins to take over his small town. He eventually breaks down and details his plan to his captors, but still refuses to cave in to the evil mindset that pervaded the Nazis. Schüttler brings a much needed warmth to the story, too.
The impact that one person, with hope for a better world and the refusal to give in, can have is remarkable (there are many stories about this in modern movies from Wall-E to The Hunger Games). And there's a hint at this in the way the story also touches upon how much Georg affected, in the subtlest of ways, the chief detective for the Reich Security Head Office – Arthur Nebe, played by Burghart Klaußner – who was assigned to investigate this assassination attempt. As a WWII thriller, 13 Minutes doesn't bring anything new to the table, but is well produced enough to feel authentic. However, as a film about how one person can make a difference, and how the desire for peace can be an unbreakably strong force, it's outstanding.
The film is lead by an astonishing and enthralling lead performance from German actor Christian Friedel, who also appeared in The White Ribbon and Chicken with Plums. Friedel as Georg gives a powerful and riveting portrayal that fully embraces all of the aspects that made Georg such a good-hearted man. We can understand his intentions without the need to spell them out. The shot the film ends with was so perfect, and so emotionally resonant, that I got a little teary eyed, the same as I did with some of the shots in The Imitation Game. If there's any power that this film has it's hopefully to inspire a great passion for peace and love, and a refusal to be forced into believing otherwise. Ignore the critics, this is a good film worth seeing.
Alex's Berlinale 2015 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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