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Jew Suss: Rise And Fall (German: Jud Süss: Film ohne Gewissen) and German cinema

In 2010, Oskar Roehler directed a film titled Jud Süss: Film ohne Gewissen, (translation: Jud Süss—film without conscience).

It is a film about a film.

The original 1940 film Jud Süss, starring Ferdi Marian, was the brainchild of film buff Josef Goebbels through the Nazi-controlled UFA studio – directed by Veit Hallen – and intensely anti Semitic in the depiction of the Jew.

This one, made in 2011, features Tobias Moretti as Ferdi Marian and depicts his (Marian’s) initial reluctance to make the film and how he was apparently coerced by Goebbels into the role.

I use the word “apparently” as most German directors and actors adopted this defence after the war.

It is difficult for the contemporary German director – in this case Oskar Roehler – to engage this tricky issue and the film was booed at the Berlinale.

It had a budget of €30m but grossed only €1m.

Nonetheless it’s a fine film, well acted by Morett and Martina Gedeck (as Marian’s long-suffering wife) as her husband was both alcoholic and a philanderer.

Moritz Bleibtrau was excellent too as the sinister and manipulative Goebbels.

Germany had a notable film industry in the Weimar Republic with such luminaries as Fritz Lang, who went to the States after the Nazis came to power, and Josef von Sternberg.

Later, Goebbels used the film industry for propaganda.

In that time you did not have the same access as we do now to rolling 24 hours news .

My grandfather would go twice a week to the cinema for the Pathe news, which I remember – presented by Bob Danvers Walker – often followed by a B film.

So the film industry had great potential for Goebbels.

The German film industry was always parochial with few foreign film and actors.

One of the consequences of Goebbels’ films, often directed by Veit Hallen who was exonerated by a German court after the war, was the emigration of many fine directors like Lang and Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann to Hollywood.

One of the strengths of Hollywood, and indeed America, was its ability to absorb immigrant talent whilst the Nazi mantra of the pure Aryan produced mediocre films which have not stood the test of time.

Conversely, films like Casablanca  – released in 1943 with a cast of only 4 native Americans – has become a classic.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts

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