Friday, November 24, 2006

BERLIN — Germany’s first comedy about Adolf Hitler portrays him as a bed-wetting drug addict who takes baths with a toy battleship and dresses his Alsatian Blondi in an SS uniform.

“Mein Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler,” which received public funding from German film-development companies, follows a recent trend in Germany to break new ground in dealing with its Nazi history. The 2004 movie “The Downfall” was one of the first German films to portray Hitler’s human side.

A German-made farce about Hitler would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but the gradual dying out of the Nazi-era generation has given the country a more detached view of its past. The film opens in January and is currently being screened to the press in Germany.

Swiss director Dani Levy said he wants to follow in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 classic “The Great Dictator” and to take a tongue-in-cheek look at the theory that Hitler was taking revenge on the world for being beaten by his father.

In the film, set in late 1944, Hitler has lost faith in himself and a desperate Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels summons fictional Jewish acting coach Adolf Grunbaum from a concentration camp to get the dictator back in shape for a mass rally to reinvigorate the German people.

“Don’t take the final solution personally,” Goebbels tells an emaciated Mr. Grunbaum as the professor arrives in the chancellery surrounded by Nazi officials who raise their arms in deafening “Heil Hitler” salutes every few seconds.

Mr. Grunbaum gives Hitler acting lessons that involve the dictator doing push-ups and walking on all fours barking like a dog. He eventually takes on the role of psychiatrist, discovering that the dictator is still suffering from his inability as a child to please his father.

“My father once gave me a catapult,” says Hitler, played by comedian Helge Schneider, in his familiar clipped, guttural tone. “He looked up and told me ‘Kill that pigeon.’ I fired and the pigeon landed at his feet, stone dead. ‘That was a fluke,’ he said, and walked off.”

Mr. Levy said he was inspired by a theory that Hitler was taking revenge on the world for his own suffering at the hands of his strict parents.

“The ‘analytical journey’ Hitler embarks on with his ‘therapist’ Grunbaum is based on true material,” Mr. Levy said. “I have been wondering for a long time why nobody made a film about this link, in the form of a drama or a comedy.”

The film is filled with visual gags, such as Blondi the dog making a Nazi salute and Hitler keeping a stock of drugs inside the giant wooden globe in his bombastic chancellery office.

Behind all the gags, Mr. Levy has a serious message. He sees nothing wrong with a tragicomic approach to the Holocaust.

“I don’t want to give this cynical, psychological wreck of a person the honor of a realistic portrayal,” he said.

In fact, using fantasy and fable may come closer to explaining the era, he said. “Comedy is more subversive than tragedy. It can assert things that aren’t possible in an authentic, serious portrayal.”

At the end of the film, Hitler’s barber accidentally shaves off half his moustache, sending the dictator into a spitting rage so violent that he loses his voice minutes before he is due to address a mass rally. Mr. Grunbaum, hidden underneath the stage for the rally, is forced at gunpoint to imitate Hitler’s voice as the Fuhrer mimes the speech.

But the acting coach departs from the text, to the astonishment of the audience of faithful.

Filming of the movie made headlines in Berlin in March when the central “Lustgarten” square was decked with huge swastika banners for the final rally, in which hundreds of extras chanted “Sieg Heil” (“Hail Victory”) to the amazement of passing tourists and Berliners.

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