Arts

Out of Time : Oliver Hirschbiegel's 13 Minutes

Diana and Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel returns to the Second World War for 13 Minutes, a biographical tale of Georg Elser, the lone German who came close to assassinating Hitler before the outbreak of the conflict. David Roy clocked on for this compelling historical drama

Christian Friedel plays failed German assassin Georg Elser in Oliver Hirschbiegel's 13 Minutes

13 Minutes (15, 114mins)

Starring: Christian Friedel, Katharina Schuettler, Burghart Klaussner, Johann von Buelow

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

RATING: THREE STARS

CLAUS von Stauffenberg has long been the most famous of Hitler's many would-be assassins – the German army man even got the Tom Cruise treatment in 2008's so-so historical thriller, Valkyrie.

However, as Oliver Hirschbiegel's new movie 13 Minutes reminds us, Georg Elser went after the future Fuhrer years before von Stauffenberg's bungled 1944 coup with an elaborate one man plan to nip the Third Reich in the bud.

Just prior to the war, Elser – a German musician, carpenter and staunch, independently minded liberal – was becoming horrified by Hitler's persecution of those considered less than essential to National Socialism's vision of Germany's future.

Moreover, correctly assuming that the rest of the world would not stand for Hitler's displays of military aggression toward Germany's neighbours, Elser decided that the only way to drag his country back from the brink of certain disaster was to eliminate Hitler altogether. Thus, he began plotting an assassination.

13 Minutes opens with a sweat-drenched Elser (Christian Friedel) in the midst of planting his impressively sophisticated home-made bomb at the Burgerbraukeller in Munich on November 6 1938, two nights before Hitler's annual speech to commemorate his Beer Hall Putch of 1923.

This was the culmination of months of meticulous, covert activity at the Burgerbraukeller – unfortunately for Esler, Germany and the rest of the world, Hitler decided to cut short his speech by 13 minutes that year.

When the bomb went off at 9.30pm, he was already safely on his private train. Seven people were killed instantly in the explosion.

As bad luck would have it, Elser manages to get himself arrested while attempting to cut through the fence at the German / Swiss border in Konstanz. Once the Nazis find bomb-making diagrams and other incriminating items in his coat, he's immediately in the frame for the failed assassination.

The brutal scenes of his interrogation at the hands of Nazi top cop Artur Nebe (Burghart Klaussner) and sadistic Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller (Johann von Bulow) are cleverly inter-cut with flashbacks to the years leading up to the assassination.

In these attractively shot sequences, we learn about Elser's somewhat troubled family life (his father was an irresponsible drunk) and that this determined humanist and free thinking socialist who refused to join the soon-to-be outlawed Communist party was also a bit of a womaniser.

He embarks on an affair with a married woman, Elsa (Katharina Schuttler), the one true love of his life whom he saves from an abusive husband.

According to Hirschbiegel's film, Elser's main motivation in life and for the actions that lead to his imprisonment, torture and eventual death at the Dachau concentration camp in 1945 (mere weeks before its liberation by the Allies) was the pursuit and preservation of human liberty.

We see the unlikely bomber wracked with guilt over those killed in his explosion and the film-makers make good use of dramatic license to suggest that Elser's resolve may have actually influenced Artur Nebe to later participate in von Stauffenberg's Operation Valkyrie.

Indeed, the most disturbing scene in the film is not Elser's prolonged torture but its depiction of Nebe's death by hanging for treason at the hands of his old Gestapo pal, Muller.

As the disgraced Nazi's body writhes, twitches and jerks grotesquely for an uncomfortably long time Muller and co look on impassively while a camera whirs away in the corner to record the event for posterity – a stark illustration of the monstrous inhumanity Georg Elser had been attempting to cut off at the knees.

Featuring a captivating performance from Friedel, 13 Minutes offers a compelling account of an ordinary German who felt he could not stand idly by as Hitler dismantled everything he held sacred.

:: 13 Minutes is at QFT Belfast now, see Queensfilmtheatre.com for details.

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