2001 - PG-13 - 133 Mins.
|Director: Werner Herzog|
|Producer: Werner Herzog and Gary Bart|
|Written By: Werner Herzog|
|Starring: Jouko Ahola, Tim Roth, Anna Gourari, Max Raabe, Jacob Wein |
|Review by: Jennie Kermode
|Official Site: www.invinciblemovie.com|
Werner Herzog's first film for ten years tells the (roughly) true story of Jewish strongman Zishe Breitbart, lured away from his home in rural Poland by the promise of the big city, and hired to work in a Berlin cabaret on the eve of Hitler's rise to power. Playing the part of Teutonic hero Siegfried in numerous onstage fantasies, the slow-thinking but well-intentioned hero becomes increasingly concerned about the anti-Semitism he sees around him, a concern which mirrors his feelings for the theatre's beautiful but fragile pianist. Gradually, he comes to feel that he must use his gift to help his people.
Strength of confiction
It is often said that it is harder to tell a positive intelligent story than a cynical one, and one might think it especially difficult to make a gentle film about one of the most disturbing periods of Europe's history; yet this is what Herzog, masterful as ever, has achieved. ‘Invincible’ reflects the slow awakening of Europe to the Nazi threat, but it also has something to say about the different ways one might use strength to resist violence. Its hero's greatest concern is with truth, and in this regard the simpleton is the perfect protagonist, only gradually becoming aware of the numerous duplicities surrounding him.
Were it not shot in Herzog's usual rich colour, taking close account of the lighting styles fashionable in the period, ‘Invincible’ might almost pass for a 'thirties movie, an early talkie, as it is so charmingly presented in naive style, never once slipping out of character. Herzog's excursions into surrealism, in which the scurrying populace of Berlin, most especially the Nazi soldiers, are compared with crabs scurrying over rocks, dutifully evoke Bunuel. Much of the dialogue is so blunt as to be quite unrealistic, and the story itself is similarly told, yet this can only add to its character and, perversely, to its authenticity.
Herzog has always been interested in examining obsessive individuals pushed into conflict by extreme situations, and that theme is continued here, though this time the violence is never fully expressed, only hinting more horribly at the nature of the regime to come. Our hero, played by real Finnish strongman Jouko Ahola in preference to a trained actor, is good natured, calm, and somewhat blank, but this is all that is required of him in order for his story to be told; he is a still centrepoint around which insane
After a string of vulgar performances in awful films, Tim Roth here makes a stunning return to form as the cabaret owner and hypnotist, courageously portraying an ambitious and frightened man whose life is dominated by the secrets he keeps. This is one of those characters who is at once repellant and sympathetic, the sort of creature which most directors would have no idea how to handle. Through him, we encounter a subject which is approached in film with surprising rarity - the Nazi obsession with the occult, and the degree to which leading members of Hitler's regime were open to manipulation by the fashionable charlatans of the time.
To further demonstrate his ability, Herzog conjures remarkable performances from the child actors in the film, with the strongman's nine year old brother most impressive of all. All this in a story whose gentle pace demonstrates the decadence into which all of its different communities had sunk, so that the growth of Nazi power seemed inevitable, a dynamic, fierce thing which all the patient strength in the world could not hold back.