The People Vs Fritz Bauer


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The People Versus Fritz Bauer
"There are elements of courthouse film and elements of police procedural here, but the overall mood is closer to that of a Cold War spy thriller."

Ask most people under 50 today and they can tell you that the Second World War ended in 1945, but they also think that the concentration camps all closed then, and that the leading Nazis were brought to justice. The real picture is much more complicated. 15 years after the war, Hessen District Attorney Fritz Bauer was still fighting to make headway with a slew of investigations into senior Nazis still at large. He had reason to suspect that the apparatus of the state - still riddled with people who had themselves held power under Hitler - was working against him. When the possibility of catching Adolf Eichmann arose, it was too good to miss, but the pursuit was full of dangers.

This film (whose German title means 'the state vs Fritz Bauer', an interesting difference) begins with what might be a suicide attempt, or an assassination attempt, or an accident. At any rate, it's only down to luck that Bauer - played by veteran actor Burghart Klaußner - survives, one of those fortuitous moments without which history would be very different. Returning to work afterwards, the acclaimed but troubled general has to prove himself all over again. Help comes unexpectedly in the form of earnest young prosecutor Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld), but Angermann has a secret that could make them both vulnerable. Like Bauer himself, he's gay - but unlike Bauer, he hasn't learned how to be discreet, and his palpable loneliness is dangerous in a society that still has a long way to go to rid itself of prejudice. Gay men were kept in the concentration camps for some time after liberation; it would be another decade before the Nazi edicts against them were revised.

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Lingering anti-Semitism also rears its ugly head in Kraume's film, which openly engages with aspects of post-war German society that were long kept secret, prior to the challenge presented by films like The Nasty Girl. Despite the efforts that have been made since (especially through schools), much of what is covered here will remain uncomfortable for older people. Outside the department, Angermann has to deal with the prejudices of his wife's family, playing their part in formulating the new Germany, whilst the remnants of Weimar values linger at the edges of society, past and future blurred and overlooked. Discussions of fatherhood raise the question of how this society will cope with the new generation to which it has pinned its hopes.

There are elements of courthouse film and elements of police procedural here, but the overall mood is closer to that of a Cold War spy thriller. Bauer meets with an embryonic Mossad in small badly-painted rooms. There's talk of treason, government working against government. A lot of people have an interest in keeping Eichmann from coming to trial. Despite his position, Bauer is just one old Jewish man with a surfeit of enemies. Is there any hope of justice?

This is a film designed to be intriguing regardless of one's degree of familiarity with the facts. Its balancing of contemporary and present day concerns provides an easy means for audiences to connect with it, and Klaußner effectively embodies Bauer's obsession without ever seeming unreasonable. It's an important tribute to a under-appreciated man.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2016
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A portrait of Fritz Bauer, a man who defied his own government in working with Mossad to track down Adolf Eichmann.

Director: Lars Kraume

Writer: Lars Kraume, Olivier Guez

Starring: Burghart Klaußner, Ronald Zehrfeld, Sebastian Blomberg

Year: 2015

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Germany

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