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Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark) is a Russian director who was a protege of Andrei Tarkovsky's (Stalker, Solaris). Like his mentor, Sokurov's films are often slow in pace and sometimes difficult to fully understand, yet he has become one of Russia's most well known contemporary directors. In 1999 Sokurov started Moloch, the first of what would become three films looking at the lives of some of the most powerful political leaders of the 20th Century. In this film the director looks at a weekend in the lives of German dictator Adolph Hitler and his consort Eva Braun.
It is the spring of 1942. Adolph Hitler, Martin Bormann. Josef Goebbels and his wife Magda arrive at Berchtesgaden, Hitler's Alpine retreat for a weekend getaway. Waiting for them is a bored Eva Braun, who entertains herself by doing cartwheels outside in the nude for the amusement of the watching guards. Once the party is together, they eat, relax, go on a picnic, all the while avoiding any mention of politics, on Bormann's orders.
This film is a portrait mainly through Eva's eyes, of Hitler as a man, not as the evil leader of Fascist Germany. The film examines Hitler's relationship with Eva, and in doing so tries to show how such evil could come from a man. Unfortunately it fails to a large extent. The portrait that the film paints isn't very believable. Hitler is a hypochondriac, spending the afternoon in bed because he's sure he has cancer or an intestinal ailment when he is really fine. He also spend much of his time spouting inane theories concerning nettles (the best ones grow in the Ukraine) and how the newly planted forests in Italy will drain all of the warm air out of Germany and make it constantly rain. Sokurov makes Hitler look like a fool when the ruler stands up and conducts an orchestra that is appearing in a film. Hitler comes across as being childish buffoon, and a stupid one at that, rather than a ruler who conquered most of Europe.
Hitler's staff fare little better. They are seen as fawning yes-men, which I'm sure they were, who have little respect for their leader. Both of the men act terrified when Hitler asks them a question, trying to come up with the answer he wants, yet they secretly laugh at him behind his back. All the while fighting amongst each other for favor.
In one of the oddest scenes of the movie, Hitler has finished watching a film that he didn't like. Eva comments "The entire crew off to Auschwitz." Hitler has no idea what or where such a place is. Bormann explains that it doesn't exists, and that women just say illogical things for no reason, and Hitler believes him. I can't fathom why Sokurov would have Hitler not knowing about the concentration camps, or why he would buy such a ridiculous explanation from his aide.
This is a Russian film, and it is rather slow moving. I don't mind that, I love Tarkovsky's films which are very deliberately paced. The problem with this film is that many of the scenes don't really belong in the film. They don't further the characterization or plot, and don't seem to serve any purpose.
The movie is presented with the original German stereo soundtrack and optional English subtitles. Aleksandr Sokurov filmed this in a unique way. He had Russian actors in the major roles and had them mouth their lines in German. He then hired German voice actors to dub over the Russian actors. The soundtrack is adequate. There isn't a lot of dynamic effects in the film, and so the stereo track fits it well. The dialog is clear and easy to hear, though there is a lot of background noise in every scene and sometimes it is mixed higher than it should be, almost as if they are trying to mask some background hum or hiss. There are no dropouts.
The 1.66:1 widescreen image was not anamorphically enhanced, which was disappointing. Besides that the film has its problems. The image is very grainy, with the whole picture not being as sharp as it should be. I suspect that this is the way the movie was filmed, but all it does is serve to make the disc look bad. It looks like the whole thing was shot through a sheet of dirty glass. The blacks are not true black, rather a very dark gray. There isn't any damage to the print that was used, and digital defects are at a minimum.
The only extra is a 50-minute interview with the director as he was working on the film. In russiona with English subtitles, the director talks about how he came up with the idea for the project, what worries he had concerning the subject matter, and how this film differs from his earlier work.
In this film Sokurov tried a bold experiment, trying to show the human face behind the image of Hitler. Unfortunately it just didn't work. Though there are a few interesting moments much of this film is a failure. It portrays Adolph Hitler as a idiotic clown, and his ministers as equally daft yes-men. The slow pace of the film didn't bother me, I was just hoping that it would have turned into something bigger by the end. If you are a fan of unique films, this is worth watching but make it a rental.