Bonhoeffer is a documentary film which follows the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich was a theologian who early on opposed the rise of the socialist party in Germany and specifically the teachings of Adolf Hitler. He taught at the University of Berlin from 1930 until his teaching license was revoked in 1936. Bonhoeffer initially attempted to rally the congregation of his German church to stand up in defense of the Jews in that lived in the area. As time went on, and the Nazi's became more powerful, Bonhoeffer eventually launched a scheme to have Hitler assassinated.
During this turbulent time in world history, Bonhoeffer managed to write three books on his experiences and his thoughts on religion and politics: Cost of Discipleship, Letters and Papers from Prison, and Ethics. These three books have gone on to some renown in historical and religious circles and serve as an interesting reminder of what one man went through as he put his own life on the line for what he hoped would be the betterment of his people. He was imprisoned after it was discovered that he helped some Jews escape to Switzerland in 1943 and was put to death by hanging in a concentration camp in 1945.
Doblmeier's documentary mixes both new footage, shot in Germany and the United States, as well as some interesting archival and stock footage to flesh out an interesting picture of a truly perplexing time. While on one hand we have Bonhoeffer and his church members doing what they can to try and help the Jews in the name of God, on the other hand we've got footage of Hitler praying for himself and the German people, firm in the belief that he is in fact doing God's work.
Plenty of interviews with some family members, as well as those that worked and studied with him, are contained in the films ninety minute running time and lend considerable insight into Bonhoeffer's interesting history. The film also contains the only known moving footage of Bonhoeffer ever recorded in his short life, which makes it historically important in a sense as it has never been made public before.
Eberhard Bethge, a personal friend of the late theologian and also his biographer, is interviewed in quite a bit of detail, while many of Bonhoeffer's writings are read overtop of the stock footage to give viewers a sense of where he was coming from during all of this. The Bonhoeffer family also allowed Doblmeier access to a wealth of never before seen personal artifacts and photographs, and also allowed themselves to be interviewed for the film, making it a fairly personal and theoretically very accurate representation of what he was like and how he lived.
The 1.85.1 widescreen transfer is a mixed bag. Most of the new footage looks just fine, with decent colors and detail levels and aside from some mpeg compression evidence, comes across fine. There is a lot of stock footage used throughout the documentary though and some of this looks pretty rough. That has to be expected, but at the same time, it should also be mentioned. For the most part though, Bonhoeffer looks good enough.
The Dolby Digital Stereo track is very clean sounding with crisp dialogue and well balanced levels. Aside from some of the audio used overtop of the stock footage, the audio sounds just fine on this release without any background hiss or audible defects.
In the Selected Bonhoeffer Text section, you can check out some of the man's writing. In the context of the film, this is an interesting feature and lets you get inside his head a little bit, so to speak. He discusses his theology and his politics quite openly and the selections here are quite pertinent to the subject. Aside from that, there is a seven minute Interview With Director Martin Doblmeier in which the filmmaker discusses his interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer and why he chose to make a documentary film about him. Text profiles for Doblmeier, Bonhoeffer and Klaus Maria Brandauer (who provides much of the voice narration used in the film) are included, as are a theatrical trailer and a nicely laid out archival photo gallery.
Bonhoeffer is an interesting look at a segment of World War II history that doesn't get talked about much. First Run Features has done a decent job with the DVD release and this uplifting and interesting film comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.