Tuesday, August 11, 2015

13 Minutes (Elser) - the story of a German whose bomb failed to kill Hitler (QFT 14-20 August)

A bomb is set to detonate while a world leader addresses a hall full of activists. This could be the storyline that drives a series of 24 or the next Spooks film. Except it is a true life story from November 1939 that forms the basis of the new film 13 Minutes (Elser).

Georg Elser (played by Christian Friedel) was a clock maker/furniture maker who had taken a job in an armament factory. He planted sticks of explosive and an intricate mechanical timer in a hollowed-out pillar to bring the roof down in the Munich hall in which Adolf Hitler was due to speak.

Due to a weather-induced change of travel plans, the Führer left 13 minutes before the blast. Miles away, Elser was caught acting suspiciously and linked to the explosion whenever a copy of the hall’s plans were found in his jacket pocket.

And so the Criminal Police and Gestapo began a gruesome game of searching for facts that never existed. If the Führer wanted to know who inspired the plot, he need only have looked in the mirror. Yet those who detained the clock-maker struggled to believe he had the means or the motive to carry off the attack alone.
Police chief: “We can’t get any more out of him than the truth.”

Gestapo chief
: “We make the truth.”

The film’s sense of pace is plagued with flashbacks to fill out Elser’s social and workplace backstory (though it does slightly limit the amount of torture the audience has to endure). His friends see him as a coward, but he’s a quiet activist with a sense of justice, a sympathiser rather than a member of the Communist Party.
“If humanity dies, everything dies with it.”

An interesting side plot explores the Nazification of Elser’s home town and his growing intimacy with Elsa (Katharina Schüttler), a young mother who is beaten by her husband. They bond over dancing, but their permanent partnership is delayed by the zither-playing mechanical genius’ plans for destruction in Munich.

War was macho, and like the secretary who sits reading a book outside the interrogation room during the worst of Elser’s torture, the experiences of the German women featured in the film were shaped by men.

Elser believed he would prevent even greater bloodshed through his lethal deed. Asked by an interrogator what right he had to take the lives of the seven innocent people caught in the Munich blast, by a tragic coincidence Elser ended his days incarcerated in Dachau concentration camp.

Despite the precision of Elser’s bomb-detonating timepiece and the seriousness of the historical plot, 13 Minutes is tediously slow film. Long running at a shade under two hours, neither the action nor Oliver Hirschbiegel’s direction elevates 13 Minutes from being a worthy film to a great one.

13 Minutes will be screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast between Friday 14 and Thursday 20 August. Let me know what you think of 13 Minutes if you see it.

Theeb and The Diary of a Teenage Girl are also running in the QFT from this weekend.

Warning: 13 Minutes contains scenes of torture as well as accordion playing that could scare away the bogeyman and a buzzing fly that really shows off a cinema’s surround sound.

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