Festival Review: Elser / 13 Minutes (2015)


What can change a man from pacifist to freedom fighter? Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 13 Minutes pays tribute to the German resistant Georg Elser.

War And Peace

by Mark Wilshin


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

A tribute to the German resistant Georg Elser who bombed the Munich Bürgerbräukeller on 8th November 1939 in an attempt to kill Adolf Hitler (who left 13 minutes before the explosion) Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 13 Minutes is the tale of one man going against the flow. A natural born non-conformist, Hirschbiegel’s Elser (Christian Friedel) is a womaniser, eventually falling in love with married woman Elsa (Katharina Schüttler), and a resolutely free man – belonging neither to the National Socialists nor the Communist Party, despite a broad sympathy to their anti-Nazi cause. Following Elser’s story from the moment he plants the bomb in the Bierkeller to his attempted flight into Switzerland, arrest and imprisonment, Hirschbiegel interweaves flashbacks (not dissimilar to the structure used by Morten Tyldum in The Imitation Game) of the journey that led Elser from ladies man on Lake Constance to lone assassin. Christian Friedel is excellent as the young freedom fighter, but Hirschbiegel’s film lacks much deeper meaning beyond the torturing brutality of the Nazis – its most interesting dynamic the battle of ideologies between Elser and his captor Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe, each trying to persuade each other of the supremacy of their ideas. Nebe was evidently persuaded enough to then take part in the Stauffenberg plot against Hitler – but it’s underdeveloped, choosing to focus entirely on Elser’s story. Instead, with halls filled with uniformed national socialists, 13 Minutes makes the point again and again that Elser was alone in his resistance, minimising the small but significant acts of courage that sees a secretary steal a photo of Elsa from his file for him or his Christian family refuse to conform by boycotting the Nazi Harvest Festival – even his drunk good-for-nothing father! A celebration perhaps of the exception that proves the rule, Hirschbiegel’s 13 Minutes is nevertheless an important reminder of another side of the German war experience. Surely and simply told.

13 Minutes is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival

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