DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
MOLOKH (MOLOCH) (director: Aleksandr Sokurov; screenwriters: Yuri Arabov/Marina Koreneva; cinematographer: Alexei Fyodorov/Anatoli Rodionov; editor: Leda Semyonova;cast: Yelena Rufanova (Eva Braun), Leonid Mozgovoy (Adolf Hitler), Leonid Sokol (Dr. Josef Goebbels), Yelena Spiridonova (Magda Goebbels), Vladimir Bogdanov (Martin Bormann), Anatoli Shvedersky (Priest); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Viktor Sergeyev/Thomas Kufus; Zero Film; 1999)

 
"Unearthed a few sublime moments to make the overall effort worthwhile."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Eva Braun steals the spotlight from her Führer as someone willing to sacrifice herself for love, and is unafraid to mock the man she worships as a genius and fondly calls Adi. Aleksandr Sokurov's ("Russian Ark"/"Mother and Son") satirical chamber piece opens in 1942 at Hitler's Berchtesgaden Alpine retreat with the naked chunky blonde doing cartwheels on the spacious battlement grounds, as her main man and retinue return from Berlin to vacation for the weekend. Accompanying Hitler are intimates such as half-baked tiny propaganda minister Dr. Josef Goebbels and his well-stacked blonde wife Magda. There's also, a smelly from mustard gas, Martin Bormann, Hitler's loyal deputy. A servile stenographer hangs around to take notes during the dinner conversation, as Hitler lectures about the virtues of eating veggies and herbs, frets about his health and how death can be conquered, pontificates about the new master race, comments that the Nordic people are so melancholy because of the aurora borealis and that snow spreads melancholy, and fantasizes that behind every great man is a loyal but stupid wife. The guests are awed by Hitler, convinced their leader is a genius. 

Through Eva's eyes screenwriter Yuri Arabov and the director aim to scope out Hitler's inner persona. The team throw much against the wall and some sticks, but a lot of the scenes were hardly amusing or relevant. Hitler is like a Charlie Chaplin character, while all the Nazi guests act like buffoons. At one point there's talk of Auschwitz, but Hitler acts as if he never heard of the concentration camp. I don't know what that was about, but it seemed to be off base (or, perhaps it's like film critic J. Hoberman suggests: Sokurov was making a point about how the reality of history can't be trusted). 

The prevailing implication is that Eva should have been listened to. She's portrayed as the much younger mistress, who is the mercurial dumb beauty and inspiration of Hitler. She stayed clear of politics even claiming she didn't know who Germany was fighting, but the director implies that she had something worthwhile to say and if listened to history would have been different. There is no way I can buy into this 'what if' hypothesis, unless it's part of Sokurov's joke with history being so nebulous as to what is real.

It's filmed in b/w by cinematographer Alexei Fyodorov, as he captures with a series of Leni Riefenstahl-like kitsch art shots the dreary romantic fatalistic mood of the Olympian retreat. The Nazi leaders think of themselves as Greek gods, and that Hitler is their living god-like figure who makes it possible for them to be strong and break any human law.

There were two stunningly successful scenes that had something to say about Hitler that made some sense. Hitler's conversation with a visiting priest, as the priest delicately tries to get Hitler to ease up on his hatred and persecution of the church. Hitler counters that those who worship the crucifixion don't want to die. The other scene has a world-weary Hitler come into the bathroom in his underwear and soon his conversation builds from one of weakness into a psychotic rage as he screams at a bourgeois-seeking Eva "No tranquility, no pajamas, and no home-made soup."

The guests spend their time mountain climbing, listening to opera on a phonograph and madly dancing to some German tunes, eating like pigs, idly chatting, and clowning around while watching actual newsreels of the Russian front. The powerful Nazis seemed bored and their lives away from running the country seemed banal.

Moloch is an odd curio, and in some respects utterly fascinating in the way it lightheartedly depicts Hitler. It humanizes Hitler into a clown-like figure who is not all bad, as Sokurov seems to be preoccupied with him as a dullard who didn't know better. There's no mention of all the horrors taking place under his despotic regime, instead there's hints of what is happening through the gas chamber smells on the cloddish Bormann and how Goebbel's wife disses her dandified hubby as a despicable inferior with a masochistic superiority complex, saying if it weren't for his powerful position she would never make love to him. I don't think these impressions left me overwhelmed, but despite the many reservations I, nevertheless, did find that the film unearthed a few sublime moments to make the overall effort worthwhile.

The film is accomplished by the all-Russian cast acting like Germans sporting Russian accents.

REVIEWED ON 9/12/2003     GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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