Harlan – In the Shadow of 'Jew Süss': movie review
‘Harlan’ explores a German filmmaker’s Nazi-era propaganda movie and its effect on the extended family down the years.
The viciously anti-Semitic 1940 German movie “Jew Süss” is one of the most notorious films ever made. Produced under the aegis of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who made the film required viewing for the SS, and directed by Veit Harlan, it premièred at the Venice Film Festival – a festival that was the brainchild of Mussolini – and was seen by some 20 million German moviegoers and another 20 million throughout the rest of Europe. Today it is one of the few Nazi-era films that still cannot legally be shown.Skip to next paragraph
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The documentary “Harlan – In the Shadow of ‘Jew Süss,’ ” written and directed by Felix Moeller, chronicles the history of Harlan’s film and its effect on his extended family down through the years. By focusing primarily on Harlan’s children and grandchildren, Moeller transforms what might have been mere cultural scholarship into something larger – a microcosm of postwar German guilt and redemption.
Harlan, who was not a member of the Nazi Party, was the only “artist” from the Nazi era to be charged with war crimes. Using the I-was-only-following-orders defense, he twice was exonerated. He died in Capri, Italy, in 1964, and in the interim directed a dozen more films in Germany. He never publicly expressed remorse for having made “Jew Süss,” from which Moeller – the son of famed German director Margarethe von Trotta – shows ample, nauseating clips.
A full-scale historical drama set in the 18th century, “Jew Süss” is the story of a Jew who passes himself off as Christian while corrupting a local duke, enslaving the citizenry with high taxes, and forcing himself upon a beautiful, married Christian woman (played by Kristina Soderbaum, a beloved German movie star and Harlan’s third wife). While not as deliriously, mystically Teutonic as Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous “Triumph of the Will,” “Jew Süss” was, in some ways, even more insidious because it was more straightforward and accessible. It’s like a big MGM costume picture drenched in poison.