Jew Suss: Rise and Fall (2010)
Banned throughout the world at the end of the Second World War, Jud Suss was a virulent film made in 1940 at the behest Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. By distorting historical events and inventing others out of whole cloth, Goebbels’ anti-Semitic message was unequivocal. Though this biopic on the making of that film also distorts historical events and invents others out of whole cloth, its message is much more ambiguous.
At the core of this is the weak-willed nature of Ferdinand Marian, who played the eponymous role in Goebbels’ showpiece. As portrayed by Tobias Moretti, the actor seems to lack any moral compass. His dithering on whether to accept the part seems to have more to do with it being a bad career move, leaving it to his wife to point out that the film isn’t bad, it’s just horrible! Yet Marian succumbs to Goebbels’ pressure (and his own vanity) to take the role, convinced he will be able to make it more sympathetic. It is a fool’s errand. That it is perpetrated by a fool robs the film of any meaningful introspection.
Equally ill-considered was the decision to give the entire biopic a farcical quality. Moretti’s comic rendering of Marian’s drunken stupor is outdone by the burlesque treatment afforded Goebbels. Moritz Bleibtreu’s performance is so wildly extravagant, it dissipates his character’s malevolence.
Jud Suss: Film without Conscience was this biopic's original title. Given the film’s historical context, it is difficult to empathise with a lead character who suffers from the same malady.
“We were seeking historical precision. But there were a few things open to interpretation. We wanted to show a human drama but we wanted to ratchet certain things up a bit to make his moral conflicts clearer. We make movies and not documentaries, also because we want to depict human feelings."
Anna Marian, who is portrayed as being half-Jewish and is murdered at Auschwitz, is a composite character. Ferdinand Marian’s first wife was pianist Irene Saager, who was Jewish. However they divorced long before the setting of this biopic. Maria Byk, who was married to Marian at the time Jud Suss was made, was not Jewish but had previously been married to German-Jewish theatre director Julius Gellner and had a half-Jewish daughter. She survived the war and gave evidence at Veit Harlan's trial. She committed suicide shortly afterwards.
The scene recreations in the biopic are expertly crafted. Initially scenes are reproduced in their entirety. Later, small portions of the original Jud Suss film are intercut into the biopic’s recreated scene. Eventually, small clips of the biopic are spliced into major scenes from the original film, making it difficult to know where the original ends and the biopic begins.