13 Minutes, film review: A gripping interrogation of a close call for Hitler

(15) Oliver Hirschbiegel, 114 mins. Starring: Christian Friedel, Katharina Schüttler

Geoffrey Macnab
Friday 17 July 2015 02:08 BST
Burghart Klaussner, Johann von Bülow and Christian Friedel in ‘13 Minutes’
Burghart Klaussner, Johann von Bülow and Christian Friedel in ‘13 Minutes’

The rousing new film from Oliver Hirschbiegel, the director of Downfall, tells the story of one of recent German history's almost forgotten figures. Georg Elser (Christian Friedel) was a carpenter who, in 1939, came within minutes of killing Adolf Hitler with a home-made bomb. The bomb went off after Hitler left a hall, killing several bystanders.

Hirschbiegel and his screenwriters have come up with an ingenious narrative structure. The bomb blast comes at the beginning of the film; then, Elser is interrogated and tortured, and we are whisked back to when and why he built his bomb as he recounts the tale under extreme duress.

The film plays like a rustic folk tale. Elser is portrayed by Friedel as a strong-willed, good-natured country carpenter, appalled by the Nazi intimidation that reaches into his corner of Swabian Germany. He is having an affair with a married woman (Katharina Schüttler), whose boorish husband's behaviour encapsulates the vindictiveness of the National Socialists. Some of the torture scenes are very uncomfortable to watch, but Elser remains defiant in the face of extreme suffering.

Despite the cleverness of its plotting, this is an old-fashioned movie which has the feel of a Heimat-like mini-series. Elser's story isn't especially well known outside Germany but many set-pieces – the bombing, the village feasts, the grim sequences of Nazis humiliating townsfolk – seem familiar from newsreels and war movies. The film boasts handsome production values and is as intricately put together as the device Elser so painstakingly assembles.

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