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Captain Berlin vs. Hitler (2009) – Bewegtbilder Movie Review

Captain Berlin vs. Hitler

Play Written & Directed by: Jörg Buttgereit
Directed by: Thilo Gosejohann
Starring: Jürg Plüss, Claudia Steiger, Adolf Asser, Sandra Steffl, Rafael Banasik, Michael Waechter, Jörg Buttgereit

DVD Features:

  • Audio commentary by Buttgereit and Gosejohann
  • “Export Version” with English subtitles and optional English comments by Mark Reeder
  • Backstage Report
  • World premiere in Gelsenkirchen
  • Picture gallery
  • Super 8 short-films with Captain Berlin
  • 12 page comic dealing with Captain Berlin’s backstory

Released by: Media Target Distribution
Region: 0
Rating: 16 and older in Germany
Anamorphic: Yes
Language: German with optional English subtitles

I’m back with another installment of Bewegtbilder (Moving Pictures), where I talk about German films that should get more exposure to a global audience.

[ad#longpost]Wait, a German filmmaker wrote and directed a stage play in the style of children’s theater featuring Hitler, Dracula and superhero called Captain Berlin? And that’s out on DVD as a movie now? Surely you jest…

Not at all…it’s true.

One of my favorite anecdotes–of which I am not perfectly sure it actually happened–took place when Mel Brooks was promoting Dracula: Dead and Loving It in Germany. Brooks did a massive press tour during which he also visited the German version of Saturday Night Live. Legend has it that he told the cast of the show that as long as Germany was not capable of making fun of Hitler, the country was not over him and had not dealt with that dark period.

Fast forward to the world of today. We’re thirteen years after Dead and Loving It came out in Germany and after countless (see what I did there?) Hitler parodies, serious attempts to portray the dictator of Nazi Germany and also after Quentin Tarantino directed his own World War II flick.

Is it a play? Is it a movie? Is it an adaptation? Yes, it is Captain Berlin vs. Hitler. Originally a radio play with the title Captain Berlin vs. Dracula, the stage production of filmmaker Jörg Buttgereit (if the web is to be trusted, he is mostly known for his explicit horror movies e.g. Nekromantik) is set in the divided Germany of 1973. In a secret hideout, the personal physician of Adolf Hitler, Dr. Ilse von Blitzen (Steiger) is finally reaching her longtime goal: Reviving Hitler. Since all that is left of von Blitzen’s Führer is his brain, she hooks him up to a computer and succeeds in bringing the Nazi’s neural network back online, despite the absence of its feeble body.

Although disoriented at first, Hitler (voiced by Banasik) soon agrees to von Blitzen’s plan, which involves getting a new body for her Führer and then to get rid of the occupying forces. In order to obtain a body that will serve as the new instrument of Hitler’s will, von Blitzen locates the last known resting place of Count Dracula (Asser). After freeing the undead legend from a stake through his heart, von Blitzen tries to convince Dracula to help in von Blitzen’s quest to fully restore Hitler. As it turns out, Dracula is a convinced communist but his political views are no match for his bloodlust and so the hunt for an innocent female begins.

As the plans of von Blitzen and Hitler unfold, they stumble over Fritz Neumann (Plüss). Who, as von Blitzen rightly assumes, was an active part of the resistance: Neumann was also known as Captain Berlin, a superhero created in the underground of Berlin. Unfortunately, he never managed to fulfill his mission: to arrest Adolf Hitler and bring the dictator to justice. After receiving a direct message from his old nemesis, he dons his old costume and prepares to do battle, this time with both Hitler and Dracula.

The movie Thilo Gosejohann shot is more than just a filmed version of Buttgereit’s play but still not a movie adaptation of the play in its own right. Shot on location during shows and with a lot of visual effects that were added in post production, Captain Berlin is certainly a unique experience. The monologue heavy play works surprisingly well with the references to comics and trash and horror movies.

Asser has enormous fun channeling Bela Lugosi; his Dracula seems also to be inspired by Gustaf Gründgens’ Mephistopheles but maybe I am reading too much into the undoubtedly great performance. The rest of the cast impresses as well: Claudia Steiger portrays the Nazi physician von Blitzen with an amount of passion that is almost scary, while Sandra Steffl manages to pull off both an innocent girl and a seductive “vamp” convincingly.

Jürg Plüss’ job is it to play a cheesy Captain America knock-off who naturally has not a single surprising line of dialogue. His physical performance is especially spot on: he poses as a comicbook superhero, he walks, runs and fights as a comicbook superhero–he is a walking talking cliché and that is what the role demanded. Rafael Banasik delivers a good comedic impersonation of Hitler’s voice, yet his strongest moments are the few lines that make Hitler almost appear human.

It took me a while to fully appreciate the homage fest that Buttgereit’s production is. Right from the beginning you appreciate the intense work of the cast. Due to the nature of the subject and the references to trash, grindhouse, horror and comics as well as the whole production being a stage play, it takes some time to embrace this odd and charming production. After having seen this several times by now, I can’t help but praise the movie and the original play for being funny, smart and meaningful without being didactic. I don’t know how much the movie will suffer when watched with subtitles (the translation seems to be good) but I’d say it’s worth the risk.

For more info, here’s the movie’s IMDB page. Here you can find the director on MySpace and Captain Berlin is on there as well.

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