Director : David Wnet
Written by : David Wnet, Timur Vermes, Marco Kreuzpaintner and Johannes Boss
It takes some balls to make a movie set in modern day Germany with Adolf Hitler as the main character. It requires the balance of a tightrope walker to make it palatable and a feat of magic to make it funny. Look Who’s Back manages the impossible for the first hour, but when the weight of the subject matter and the extremes of the character eventually come home to roost, it removes any possibility of a successful resolution.
The cold open has Adolf in a restaurant that turns out to be a school for manners. The static camera leads you to suspect, that this is a Borat style ambush and as the scene plays out , that is confirmed. But then after the very cinematic credits, it drops into a more traditional, albeit surreal, storyline. Hitler wakes up in a garden bed in modern day Germany. He’s confused. The kids that meet him are confused, and we aren’t sure what we are about to watch. Is it going to be an edgy fish out water comedy or a docudrama exploring the current mood of the German people, with a guy dressed as the Fuhrer to elicit extreme viewpoints?
It’s a question that never really gets answered, but either way, it’s an interesting idea. Or really, it’s two interesting ideas. But the filmmakers never really decide on which direction they want to go in and end up swinging between the two. It leads you to suspect that they didn’t quite have enough belief in the narrative to stick with it, or that they had such compelling material from the general public they had to use it. The result is that by the second hour, you start to lose interest.
What lingers is the idea. The great “what if” of resurrecting Hitler in the present day is compelling, but what is shocking is how easily the public embraces him. We see a few scenes of individual outrage, but the majority seem to find him amusing and are willing to listen and potentially follow him. For all of his horrible ideas and unforgiveable actions, Oliver Mascussi captures the Hitler charisma and shows the attractiveness of unrelenting purpose combined with skillful oratory.
Look Who’s Back was released in 2015 and its subject matter is even more timely than the 2011 book on which it is based. The concerns of the German people, in regard to the social and economic impact of immigrants, are captured in the Borat style sections of the movie and it seems the concerns of the Germany people are common to other western countries. The recent Australian elections have seen Pauline Hanson returned to Parliament on her xenophobic rhetoric and the success of the Trump campaign in the US has largely been built on harnessing the fears of the masses.
It’s sobering to put these current political trends against real historical facts to remind us how things can turn out if blaming others is valued over improving yourself, and even though Look Who’s Back doesn’t really work as a movie, there’s value just in that.