Saturday, 18 November 2017

Eichmann (2007)

Known as 'the architect of the Holocaust,' Adolf Eichmann, upon being presented to the world during his trial for war crimes in 1960, appeared a figure of calculating and fastidious grey efficiency. Hannah Arendt, one of the journalists covering the trial, became famous for coining the phrase 'the banality of evil' when witnessing these last days of the facilitator of the Reich's Final Solution. Unfortunately it could be argued that the 2007 film Eichmann, Robert Young's admittedly sincere but occasionally tonally off account of Eichmann's confessions to Captain Avner Less of the Israeli Police Force, is rather guilty of banality itself.

The film takes the form of a legal procedural; placing the young, idealistic Less played by Troy Garity against the weary, duplicitous captive played by Thomas Kretschmann. The main meat of the film is how Less must dig deep to not only confront the physical embodiment of pure evil on a daily basis but also to wring a confession from him. There's also a race against time too, as the press have got wind of a conflict of interest - Less' father was personally sent to his death in Auschwitz by Eichmann.

However, perhaps realising that a film consisting of two men sat opposite one another across a table may be considered boring - even when based on official Israeli documentation about the greatest horror in living memory, director Young and his scriptwriter Snoo Wilson make the fatally offensive mistake of 'sexing' their production up by exploring the rumours that surround Eichmann that are perhaps less than substantiated. The film takes great pains to depict Eichmann as a sexual deviant; his eye lingers on the rear end of an Israeli policewoman and her prominent nipples against the thin fabric of her uniform as he sits in his cell. In the flashbacks, we witness an Eichmann furiously making love to his wife on their first night together in Argentina. Later in the film, when we are shown Eichmann's activities in the war years, we are witness to his liaisons with two mistresses; the first an Austrian Jewish woman and the second a Hungarian Countess who is perversely sexually gratified to hear the details of the Final Solution in some of the film's most unsettling, unsavoury scenes. This opportunity to show tits and arse in such a film is rather tasteless, but it is nothing compared to the unbearably fraught, sickening scene in which the Countess arrives in Eichmann's office with a Jewish baby who she instructs him to kill for her. It's a deeply distressing moment and Eichmann does indeed pull the trigger, but is it true? I can't find anything that truly corroborates it. Perhaps it is the film-maker's intentions to inform us in the clearest possible terms that Eichmann is responsible for the deaths of many babies, children, men and women, young and old. But do we really need informing of that fact? Is it a case of taking a sledgehammer to crack a walnut?

The film also suffers from some one dimensional characterisation. This is most noticeable in Less, who is little more than a blank sheet which the film paints with idealism, torture, indignation and a crusading spirit at various stages across the 90 or so minutes. Garity's performance doesn't help lift the character from the plot mechanics he is there to serve either. It's a real shame, as the real Avner Less deserves better. Understandably in its reverence towards the subject the film actually reduces and condescends the Jewish people even further, with each character standing in as examples of the suffering of their people as a whole. 

Thomas Kretschmann however is chillingly convincing in his attempt to bring the familiar film footage and photographs of Eichmann to life. It's a deeply uncomfortable skin crawling performance of ruthless, quiet self entitlement and barely suppressed notions of superiority that actually grow in their appalling captivating manner because Garity opposite him is so empty. Here at least the film does what it sets out to do and details the horror of the man and of what he was responsible for.

Rounding out the cast are Franka Potente as Less' wife and curiously Stephen Fry as the Israeli Justice Minister who places Less in the role of inquisitor. Whilst Eichmann doesn't escape its minimal budget trappings it  is a solid, well made piece as one perhaps would expect from Young, a veteran of TV and similar small budget features. Overall though I'd recommend The Eichmann Show or, most especially, the excellent Conspiracy over this.

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