Werner Herzog's latest feature Invincible made after an absence of several years from moviemaking certainly does not live up to his reputation for being a meticulous and provocative director. Films like, "Aguirre: The Wrath of God","Fitzcarraldo", and "Nosferatu", stand starkly in contrast. Indeed Herzog was the leading director of German cinema in the 1970's and 1980's This is a man who never saw any films, television, or telephones as a child and who roamed the world alone later to make over 40 films.
"Invincible"however deals with a theme that still profoundly compels our attention. As with some of the German director's other films, its a portrait of a man who holds his finger against the tide of change and weaves a web of connections. Based on a true story, the film centers on a blonde strong man, a Jewish blacksmith named Zishe Breitbart who becomes a stunning success in the Berlin Palace of the Occult theater, played by Finnish actor Jouko Ahola (who in real life is the strongest man in Finland).
Much to the surprise of Nazi officers who attend the show, Ziche both contradicts the stereotype notion of the Jew promoted in negative propaganda and becomes a pillar of hope for the Jewish community of the 1930's. His body becomes a metaphor for an alternative voice that damages the rise for the growing Nazi party, breaking their illusions about Jews.
If you recall "Cabaret" the fabulous showman played by Joel Grey is able to ingeniously address issues confronting Germany of the time while the Nazi party was growing. Here in the strength of one man's body is a message that also challenges the preposterous mentality of the time. He not only infuriates the Nazi's but also encourages other Jewish men to become like him. (Tim Roth)Hanussen has a fabulous role as a clairvoyant who dreams of establishing Ministry of the Occult in Hitler's government and who employs Zishe.
István Szabo's "Hanussen" starring Klaus Maria Brandauer's covered the territory more so than this film and Roth remains on the sidelines. Though the film has its moments what is considered a rather lengthy history lesson was unappreciated by critics at its international debut at the 2001 Venice International Film Festival, though Herzog heavily promoted it and fought for its ultimate virtue. It may be true that Herzog, a man of detail became enraptured with his subject and was unable to use his editing shears but he is known for being on a different temporal wavelength. As for Breitbart his legend lives on in folk tales and song.
This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International, Venice Italy
© 2002 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/02
Germany - 2001