Engrossing parable of how the young Hitler's 'artistic' ideas went askew
DIRECTED BY Menno Meyjes
STARRING John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Leelee Sobieski, Molly Parker
Opens June 13, Cert 15, 109 mins
It’s 1918 in Munich, and in the aftermath of World War I those crazy rock’n’roll guys called ‘artists’ are excited: all bets are off, the future’s what they make it. Tomorrow, they feel, belongs to them. They’re having so many fresh ideas, in the wake of the changes and horrors they’ve witnessed, that everybody’s arguing, heatedly, about which road modern creativity should take.
Max Rothman (Cusack) lost an arm in the war, which means he can no longer paint. He channels his energy into opening and promoting a cutting-edge art gallery. In his downtime, he flits between elegant wife (Parker) and unconventional mistress (Sobieski). Life’s challenging, but good. Max is always discovering new artists?a drunken George Grosz (Kevin McKidd) throws up in scene one, and when a shy, neurotic loner (Taylor) begs for a chance, he’s generous, as the young man’s a fellow war Vet. But this guy’s ideas get increasingly out there. His name? Adolf Hitler.
Max is a fable, blurring fact and fiction to catch the fire of a rich but catastrophic turning point in history. Meyjes, who wrote it, brews a vibrant movie that emphasises its ‘modernism’ in every sense. It’s not a dull, faithful period piece. Liberties are taken, yet its colours and ideas develop real emotional pull. A one-armed Cusack?in serious rather than larking-about mode here?is splendid as the smooth extrovert hiding inner frustration, an amalgam of several legendary art figures. Sobieski’s muse is based on Meret Oppenheim, and the Jewish ‘issue’ simmers subtly till it spills. Taylor, however, steals the film. His young Adolf is a creepy, fidgety act of revenge waiting to happen. We’re brought to believe his ‘talents’ could’ve been misdirected in such a tragic way. “I think it’s good,” says Max, dismissing Hitler’s early drawings (“harmless” flirtations with Nazi “kitsch”), “but you can go even deeper.”
Films where people talk a lot about the meaning of art don’t often work. This one does. “I reckon he’s a nothing,” suggests Max of Hitler. “Perhaps that’s his secret?perhaps it’s the age of the nothing.” A masterpiece of poetic license, Max gets everything right. Superb.