Shining a light on German denazification, Lars Kraume’s The People Versus Fritz Bauer is an important story of a forgotten hero.
Against The Wallby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Opening with archive footage of Fritz Bauer listing the things a postwar Germany can be proud of, Lars Kraume’s The People Versus Fritz Bauer taps into the zeitgeist of modern German thought. Even his fictionalised account of the state prosecutor behind Adolf Eichmann’s arrest, like Margarethe Von Trotta’s recent Hannah Arendt or Giulio Ricciarelli’s Labyrinth Of Lies, reveals a very modern preoccupation with the past – and in particular how West Germany gave up on denazification and refused to deal with its past. It’s a national conflict that here finds dramatic form in the shape of socialist, Jew and homosexual Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaußner), trying desperately to make Germany face up to its crimes with the trial of a senior Nazi on German soil. But with former National Socialists in the Secret Service, law courts, government and police, it’s a battle already lost. There’s not even a German security force that can be trusted not to warn Eichmann, let alone go after him. But with young attorney Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld) on side, Fritz Bauer is able – with a little patriotic treason – to engage Mossad and ensure Adolf Eichmann’s capture. Persecuted by his colleagues – pernicious Gebhardt (Jörg Schüttauf) and hissing Kreidler (Sebastian Blomberg), Bauer lives in a pressure cooker, receiving death threats, constantly fighting for his own political survival and liable to arrest at any moment. But when Angermann, caught in flagrante with another man and charged under Paragraph 175, refuses to give in to tyranny, risking his reputation, career and family, it’s enough to spur the old prosecutor on to another trial – this time of the Auschwitz files on German soil. With a jazzy score and immaculate Fifties décor, Der Staat Gegen Fritz Bauer draws an important line under the inadequate resolutions of the past. And while Kraume’s film isn’t daring enough to play with style or form, it names and shames and makes a hero of the man with an inextinguishable anger. And with a fantastic performance from Burghart Klaußner, The People Versus Fritz Bauer is an important testament to the heroes of the past. And one Germany can be proud of.
The People Versus Fritz Bauer is now showing at the London Film Festival