BERLIN (Agence France Presse) — The Berlin film festival, which has struck a reflective tone with several films on World War II, ended Sunday with Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp appealing for world peace in a screening of his satire of Hitler, “The Great Dictator.”
Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine said at the Berlinale, being held in central Berlin only a few hundred yards from the bunker where Hitler died, that she thought the 1940 film was “more relevant than ever.”
The film “Bloody Sunday,” about violence in Northern Ireland, and the Japanese animated film “Spirited Away,” about a 10-year-old girl’s fantasy adventure, shared best-picture honors at the festival.
Frenchman Jacques Gamblin won the Silver Bear for best actor in “Laissez-Passer” (“Safe Conduct”) as a French filmmaker who fights underground and then openly against the Nazis. American star Halle Berry won best-actress honors for her role in the interracial love story “Monster’s Ball.”
“The Great Dictator” not only pokes fun at Hitler’s ridiculous strutting, but also highlights the human tragedy the Nazis were creating.
It ends with a desperate speech of hope. A Jewish barber, whom the Nazis have mistaken for Hitler, tells a mass rally: “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. … I don’t want to rule or to conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible Jew and gentile, black, white.”
The barber, played by Chaplin, says: “Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.
“Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.”
Chaplin said after the war that if he had known in 1939 just how far the Nazis would go with the Holocaust, he never would have made the film.
“The Great Dictator” is replete with classic scenes, including Hitler ecstatically juggling a globe in a metaphor for his thirst for conquest and hysterical macho confrontations with a Mussolini-type character.
The film is to be released again in movie theaters worldwide, Miss Chaplin said.
“The Great Dictator” almost wasn’t made in 1938-39, when Chaplin wrote and shot it. It was opposed by isolationists in America, many of whom had Nazi sympathies; American Jews, who were afraid it would make things worse for their brethren in Europe; and the British government, not yet at war with Hitler and interested in appeasing him.
Chaplin, however, asked Jewish leaders how much worse it could be, British film historian Kevin Brownlow said at the Berlinale in presenting a documentary on the making of the film.
Mr. Brownlow said that President Franklin Roosevelt sent a representative to Chaplin to tell him to go ahead and make the movie.
By the time “The Great Dictator” opened in October 1940 in New York, British reservations about it had been removed because Britain was at war with Germany.
Miss Chaplin said the film opened in London “during the blitz,” or German bombing.
“The Great Dictator” was the first film in which Chaplin used sound and the last in which he wore his famous tramp costume.
The film turns on the physical resemblance of the Hitler character, called Adenoid Hinkel, the paranoid dicator of Tomania, and his double, the Jewish barber.
There also is a Mussolini parody, the dictator of the state of Bacteria, Benzino Napaloni, played to perfection by Jack Oakie.
The parallels between Chaplin and Hitler are amazing.
They were born only four days apart. They both had trademark mustaches. Hitler, an impoverished artist, was living as a tramp in Vienna in 1914, the same year Chaplin developed his comic tramp character.
When Chaplin visited Berlin in 1931, he was greeted by joyous crowds, but the Nazis denigrated the film star as a Jew. Chaplin’s daughter said her father, who was not Jewish, never denied the Nazi claims that he was a Jew, as he regarded such prejudice to be despicable.