Documentary1981-1990FrancePoliticsRobert Kramer

Robert Kramer – Notre nazi AKA Our Nazi (1984)

In 1984, the West German film director Thomas Harlan (maker of Torre Bela [1976] and author of the novel Rosa [2000]), directed Wundkanal: Execution for Four Voices, a joint French-German production about Dr S, a soldier impeached after the war for taking part in the massacre of Jews in Lithuania, and his slide towards suicide. To express his resistance to the forgetting of Nazism as war criminals aged, Harlan cast Alfred Filbert – an actual member of the SS during the War who spoke only German – as Dr S for this experimental fiction film shot in a French studio. (7) Filbert was not aware of what was to happen on set, in front of the camera, mor that the script was merely a pretext or ruse for a psychodramatic ‘happening’: Harlan, in fact, intended to interrogate and expose, ‘live’, his complicity with Nazi atrocities.

Kramer collaborated with Harlan on the project. He recorded scenes of filming, interviewed the cast and crew. Later, he turned these into the independent project Our Nazi. Both this film and Harlan’s were screened for the first time at the Venice Film Festival in 1984, and reappeared together at the Berlin Film Festival in 1985. The fact that Harlan’s father Veit Harlan was a film director who had made the film Jud Süss (1940) was a major factor in the reception accorded the film: ‘Harlan’s hatred of his father resembles, strangely enough, an inverted love; and Kramer’s film, titled Our Nazi with intentional irony, obliges us to ask ourselves: who is the Nazi in this story?’ (8) The West German production team decided to postpone general screening of the film; it has rarely surfaced since.

Why did such a scandal occur? Kramer: ‘Let’s say, in a way, most films we watch are fascist because they are seductive enough to make you lose your sense of responsibility … we certainly did not want that kind of seduction.’ (9) ‘I just wanted to stand this test — to face this “pleasant”, bureaucratic gentleman, and capture the jurisdiction of suffering before authority, over comrades, the director, the Fuhrer.’ (10) Ultimately, Harlan’s hopes for Wundkanal were betrayed; the film operates on a logic of exclusion backed by the ‘authority’ of the director (Harlan himself) and the support he gets from his team – as he effectively prosecutes/persecutes Filbert. This ‘trial’ was itself interpreted as itself a lingering expression of Nazi ideology. In this sense, Harlan, Kramer and their contemporary German Jewish-American colleagues are all ‘German’. Our Nazi shows Kramer’s own issues leaping back at him, as in a mirror. We should view this work not only as an impeachment of Veit Harlan’s son, but also as a deeply self-critical testament.

Our Nazi was, in many respects, a transitional film for Kramer – it was, for instance, his first attempt at using Hi-8 video and at shooting all the footage himself. Although rigorously edited, the insertions of dramatic footage, and the clash of viewpoints (Kramer’s versus Harlan’s), resolve themselves into an uncomfortable kind of ‘message’ picture. It was not until the ‘90s, in films such as Leeward (Sous le vent, 1991), Point de départ/Starting Place (1993) and SayKomSa (1998), that Kramer started to wield his camera like a pen. These are masterpieces that fully express the filmmaker’s mentality and show how the artist sees the world. But there is room for debate about whether or not Our Nazi offers a suitable way of taking root in and transmitting the world. This is a different issue from the strategically guided propaganda that is central to films like Shoah (1985); it is another dimension altogether, a matter of higher aesthetic ethics. And it is these more complex areas that the films of European Trilogy explore.

1.45GB | 1h 53mn | 744×558 | mkv

Language(s):German, French
Subtitles:English, German for the non German parts

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