The only Third Reich filmmaker to be tried for crimes against humanity (he was acquitted, twice), the notorious Veit Harlan's anti-Semitic 1940 hit Jew Süss is credited with getting the German moviegoing public on board with the Final Solution. The question of whether or not Harlan can be redeemed posthumously—as either a filmmaker or as a human being—sits at the heart of Felix Moeller's documentary about Harlan's life and work, told primarily by the extended family he left behind. All the Harlan children and grandchildren seen here concur that Süss was used as a "murder weapon," but they disagree over whether or not the filmmaker intended it as such. Was Harlan––who often cast second wife Kristina Soderbaum as an Aryan goddess, embodying "purity, unspoiled nature, and idyllic romance" and inevitably tainted by outside forces––truly sympathetic to the Nazi cause? Or was he a gifted, passionate filmmaker who could only practice his trade by sucking up to Goebbels? Stuffed with talking heads, Harlan is overlong and redundant, but its core questions are worthy. "If the question is, who in Germany is guilty, the fact is, many millions were slayed by us," Harlan's niece Christiane Kubrick says somberly. Harlan's family can go around in circles debating his merits and intentions, but that "us" cuts to the quick.
The unhappy director Harlan.
Runs at SIFF Cinema, Fri., March 26–Thurs., April 1. Not rated. 99 minutes.