Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Oliver Hirschbiegel

Bruno Ganz dangerously convincing as Adolf Hitler?
Posted by Hello

I had almost abandoned the idea of blogging about Oliver Hirschbiegel's "The Downfall" and his treatment of the figure of Adolf Hitler when I opened today's "El Mundo" and saw an article by Eugenio Trías called "Demons with an Human Face". Frias ("filósofo y miembro del Consejo Editorial de EL MUNDO") asks for the same cinematic treatment to be applied to the figures of the Spanish civil war (discreetly called "nuestra pasada contendia civil"). Now, that takes me to that issue I've been obsessing about for a long time (the post on Beevor was about that too) on the crucial need in democracy for political catharsis. I am talking about real confrontation, head on, with past blots, sins, tragedies and not sacrificial rituals like homegrown or International Courts. In simplistic terms, tribunals are good but they're not enough. In the post-mortem of serious crisis periods (revolutions, civil wars, regimes with systematic human rights abuses, proctated wars) ostracizing a particular political family or ideological label, or judging and condemning the culprits fail to address a crucial point. It's the individual self-attained atonement that is needed. There are some examples of when that path was attempted, namely in post-Apartheid South Africa, but the road to 'collective-individual' catharsis has been, most of the times, resisted.
Some people even claim that enforced amnesia might be a better medicine than catharsis, and that current generations should not "fight all over again" the conflicts of past generations . They argue that whenever positions are all well typified and consolidating , revisiting the data available only re-enforces past acquired and strongly held positions. I beg to differ.
I witnessed in Moscow how the young generations refuse to address pre-Stalin Soviet Russia, considering that period already irrelevant for contemporary politics, and that made me sad. I agree that the "window of opportunity" is closing, and that indeed History is a freezing process very different from Political Current Affairs which are liquid and changeable. Not withstanding that, one might note that, for instance, the Vietnam War, after leaving the Current Affairs level and before being glazed into History, remains "visitable" by contemporary Americans (and others) in a way that can still be relevant to today's political process in America (Movies that addressed the Vietnam War decade or two later are a good example) . The Algerian War might still be revisited for catharsis purposes. The Spanish Civil War is hardly revisitable any more. ( Last week, in Georgetown University, Aznar said, incredibly, that "History is history.It's stupid to discuss a Civil War that was over 70 years ago and a dicatorship that was over 30 years ago").
Still, there are a couple of files that resist being taken into the Archives peacefully, and that have not lost the potential (even need) for catharsis that could be relevant to contemporary societies. One of them is pre-Stalin revolutionary Russia, another is the "post- Palestine Mandate file". Another, on a still very painful level, is Nazi Germany.
As the producers of "The Downfall" stressed: " We wanted to shoot a picture in German, with German actors and a German director". The number of viewers, the discussion on the media, the polemic remarks of Wim Wenders, all have contributed to that "un-freezing" of situations already almost catalogued, plainly, as History.
There is a risk of "gigantic trivialization", as Wenders warned, but I rather want to believe also that Hirschbiegel is engaging himself and his generation (to the benefit of the new and future generations) into the required catharsis process.

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