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MOLOCH (translated as 'a demon in the shape of a man') is a film that
shows yet another aspect of Aleksandr Sokurov's approach to
film-making. As in his splendid 'Russian Ark', 'Mother and Son', and
'Father and Son' he manages to say more in his silences and interplay
of his characters with nature and their environments that in his spare
scripts (this script is by Yuri Arabov and Marina Koreneva). His
movement is slow, like an adagio, his eye is constantly on symbolism
and irony, and his filming/camera technique is always experimental.
Given these factors 'MOLOCH' is a fine example of how Sokurov works his
magic: whether or not the viewer will relate to this bizarre film
depends on how willing one is to enter Sokurov's vision. This film
about Hitler is very much a Russian product and given the history of
the relationship between Russia and Germany, that fact is necessary to
1942, in a fortress in the clouds of Bavaria, we find Eva Braun (Yelena Rufanova) cavorting balletically both inside the foreboding stone 'dungeon' and out on the dangerous parapets. She is visited by a strange entourage: Hitler (Leonid Mozgovoy), Dr. and Mrs. Goebbels (Leonid Sokol and Yelena Spiridonova), Martin Boorman (Vladimir Bogdanov), and a priest (Anatoli Shvedersky). The action takes place in a single day and during this time the actual war is not discussed. We are to understand this is a retreat for relaxation, but as we get to know the characters we find that many hints of the evil and insane minds of all of them. They talk: Auschwitz is mentioned and Hitler apparently has never heard of it; Hitler pontificates on power; the Goebbels demonstrate their abject worship of Hitler; Eva Braun is the sassy journalist who is the only one who can talk back to Hitler, teasing, seducing and acquiescing to his inability to demonstrate intimacy. They dine (Hitler's vegetarian mentality deplores the 'corporal soup' his dinner partners devour), they watch old grainy black and white news clips of war machines, new tanks, soldiers, and oddly a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony with Knappertsbusch conducting. Then the guests retire, and Hitler is joined by Eva Braun in a bizarre boudoir scene. In the morning the entourage leaves and Eva remains, retuning to her strange world of dancing through the fortress.
Throughout the film the music is that of Wagner - Siegfried's Funeral Music, and other passages from 'Die Götterdämmerung' (Twilight of the Gods!) accompanied by some banter about Furtwangler and Bruno Walter as well as Knappertsbusch. The acting is somewhat stylized which adds to the bizarre mood the story creates. In the final analysis this appears to be Sokurov's image of a mind gone mad with power and visions of immortality and it is only at the very end when Eva Braun whispers that he cannot defeat death that there is a moment of vulnerability in the historical Hitler.
This is a slow moving 108 minutes of film and not for everyone's taste, but if you are an admirer of Aleksandr Sokurov it is a mesmerizing journey through the cerebral passages of one of history's worst molochs. Grady Harp
Yes, it would be easy to criticize Molokh for being slow, and for having
Russian actors mouthing German words that aren't natural to them, but I
found this film to be fascinating through most of its length (and if
Tarkovsky had made it, it would have been TWICE as long).
What we see is Hitler and his inner circle being jovial and vicious by turns, along with loopy discussions of racial characteristics (Czech men have droopy mustaches, indicating moral turpitude; the Finns are rendered mentally unfit owing to cold weather, etc.) There is a lot of backstabbing going on between Bormann and Goebbels; pity that Goering isn't in the film--we would have benefitted even more from his cynicism. All of this has the ring of truth--I recently read Speer's memoirs, Inside the Third Reich, which has detailed accounts of these lunch and dinner talk-fests.
Yelena Rufanova is not convincing as Eva Braun--too slavic looking--but Leonid Mozgovoy with his dumpy body is great as Hitler. The hypochondria, the refusal of middle-class pleasures--no slippers!--the insane political musings: it's all here. Leonid Sokol is Goebbels, absolutely. The rat face on a dwarf's body, the desperate ridicule of Bormann whom he knows is cutting him down: this is fine acting.
Sokurov adopts Leni Riefenstahl's style to tell a Wagnerian story of grandeur and collapse.
It's a masterpiece. Provocative and strange. As you watch you wonder what the hell is going on. It's one of those films that shakes up your idea of cinema. It overturns your idea of history dealing with a subject that has been stamped and framed through so many documentaries and films so that you have already have your mind ready made for you. Nothing can be further from this movie. This is a movie that makes you rethink. And it's funny too. As the title suggests it's about evil and evil empires but instead of dealing with their grandiose and terrible projects it approaches Hitler and his cronies by illustrating their banality, ordinariness, and yes, ridiculous antics. There's no way you could describe this film as in some way supportive of Hitler. Hitler playing around with his teasing lover, his masculinity and prowess at stake. Hitler pontificating about this and that with every word he says taken down in writing as though it were gospel. Hitler with his bloated and deformed cronies messing about in the Eagles Nest, up there in the mist looking over his empire of clouds. Sokurov has made great movies and this is another.
The year is 1942. Hitler is at the height of power. He and his inner
circle retreat to a misty mountaintop castle in the Alps. Eva Braun,
nearly naked and alone, basks in solitude on the ramparts. It is her
only escape from the burden of loving a human chimera. Thus begins
Alexander Sokurov's film MOLOCH, which won the Best Screenplay Award at
the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.
Webster's Third International English Dictionary describes Moloch as an ancient Semitic deity, and the figurative definition runs as, "A tyrannical power propitiated by human subservience or sacrifice." The latter is definitely in evidence as the film explores Braun's personal world and tribulations, as well as the grotesque behavior of Hitler and his obsequious associates. The film does not attempt to mirror history; rather it is a bold speculation that takes its cues from the past.
Leonid Mozgovoy's performance as Hitler is uncanny. He is nervous, annoyed, self-absorbed, even vulnerable, and oblivious to the strained relations around him, including his troubled relationship with Braun, played by Yelena Rufanova. Their final scene is particularly compelling, where Braun in sympathetic tones tells Hitler as he is about to be driven away in his sedan, "Death is Death. It cannot be defeated."
In a unique maneuver, Sokurov had his entirely Russian cast voice the dialogue in German, after which they were dubbed by native German actors from Berlin, creating a nearly seamless result.
Unfortunately, the Russian version of the film in theaters had a voice-over translation (done entirely by Mozgovoy), which interferes with the German text, defeating the whole purpose of going to all that trouble. This decision was made in deference to Russian audiences, which are used to and even sometimes prefer this type of translation, but subtitles would have worked much better. Luckily, the Russian DVD has this option (Russian subtitles only).
The film is more streamlined than other Sokurov efforts, and may be called one of his best works, if not the best. The editing and pacing are smoother than that of many of his other films. The recently released video version of the film contains 21 minutes of footage not seen in the theatrical version. The long version plays well, with more rich detail, more expository elements such as additional manifestations of Eva's mischievous nature and Adolf's sensitivity to smells and foodstuffs.
Sokurov studied history at Gorky State University before becoming a filmmaker. He makes highly idiosyncratic, strikingly atmospheric and ponderously paced works, drawing inspiration from classical literature and music what he calls "Old World art." He crafted the film from a screenplay entitled "The Mystery of the Mountain" (originally the title of the film), written by Yury Arabov, with whom he has collaborated frequently.
The film can rightfully be called a cinematic milestone because of its portrayal of Hitler. For the first time in narrative film history, Hitler is shown to be human. This is ultimately a valuable artistic judgment, for it fosters understanding of the political forces that he set in motion.
Sokurov notes, "Erich Fromm wrote that until we learn to understand Hitler's human nature, we will never understand anything about Nazism or learn to discern potential monsters in those lusting for power."
Honestly, I don't know what all the fuss is about when people say this is a boring and pretentious film. Yes, this is an art-house flick. It's beautiful purpose is to make you think in many different ways and about many different aspects of Nazism; for instance, look how the throng assembles like one of Rembrandt's paintings of the ruling council when 'Adi' slumps into the chair. A very telling reference out - but this film doesn't restrict its references to 'highbrow' themes. In its stylised portrayal of Goebbels and Bormann it manages to suggest the stereotypes of American cinema, which is meant to generate insights into how to view this centre of evil. As the synopsis says, Hitler et al have come to Berchtesgaden for R & R, right? Not much fun, is it? At the centre of this empire, there is simply a void of yes-men who cannot relax in each other's company, who cannot even break out the wine until der Fuhrer has gone to bed, and who for whom every day is an exercise in the most intense nervousness *with no way out except through der Fuhrer's whimsical violent rage.* This movie is one of the driest I've come across. If Mel Brooks was the slapstick Nazis, this is Nazis as 'Big Brother' contestants. So underplayed, it's not exactly surprising many people complain there's nothing going on here - but then, the evil of the Nazis is a strange and unwanted gift for artists and filmmakers who want to get as damn near to Eliot's 'Objective Correlative' as possible, so they can play with a collective, coherent response. In this case, it begins with, "The Nazis were awful, awful people. When did their punishment happen, eh? How was death truly a punishment for their particular evil?" This movie shows, by making fun of them from several perspectives, exactly what their punishment was. When the film moves into the relationship between AH and EB later on, it is further complicated by the fact that Eva is the only one who has even seen what they are doing. Note the subtlety of the exchange which ends in Adi saying, "That's the right answer," or the weird symbolism of their body language when he finally catches up with her in the bedroom. Sokhurov is not trying to portray realistically what happened; he is using the space of Berchtesgaden as a space for a symbolic expression of what Nazism did to the Nazis themselves. Their hell began when they imposed it on others, and they only discovered it later, by which time, one of them was a doddering old neurotic wreck, another one way out of his depth, and still another one abandoned by his old comrades and desperately trying to curry favour. And the whole thing adds up to something ludicrous. I have read on another critique here, that Hitler was considered to be very boring. Well, he can't have been that boring, if you could provoke him to send you to the Russian front simply by criticising his ambitions - but then, the boredom angle is catered for in the first ten minutes with Eva's listlessness. This film is classic.
If you remember Casablanca, you'll recall that Rick is a man who begins
the film dead on the inside. His heart is broken, he is an alcoholic,
he's perfectly neutral, and he doesn't stick his neck out for anybody.
But as the film progresses Rick rediscovers his own life again and goes
on to take a roll in the war.
"Moloch" shows us this reverse story of the anti-hero Rick. Hitler is the negation of an anti-hero, someone who probably began life off-screen perfectly moral and alive. But his desires and fears have made him a monster, dead on the inside.
People who destroy life do so because they are afraid of their own deaths. Any child who has a momentary fright in contemplating death may respond by killing an insect or a small animal and taking succor in the control over life and death. This is how evil might begin. Thus Sokurov films the vulnerable, underwear-clad Hitler of the everyday in a state of child-like fear of his own death, nearly all the time.
But the real damnation of the killer is that in the end even perpetrating destruction will not ward off the ghosts of the mind. "Death is death," reminds Eva Braun, helpfully. Like Rick's Ilsa, she knows the whole time the true source and purpose of life, knows it down in her bones. But poor Eva has no Rick to work with, and eventually her efforts to liven Hitler only bring up her own worst fears.
Pretty nice example of classical plot structure with negation of the anti-hero!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I wanted to build upon the fantastic user comment submitted by
gradyharp, a comment all potential viewers should read before viewing:
Sukurov presents us with a day in the life of Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and his wife, Martin Boorman, and a priest, depicted from the point of view of Eva Braun, during the latter stages of WWII.
The film opens with a scantily-clad Braun scaling in rigourously-restrained gymnastic strides the empty and echoing mud-toned vast brick exteriour corridors of a Parsifalian Klingsorian fortress during a frigidly chilly thunder-and-rain storm. As the camera eventually pulls back, we see is scaling the loftiest heights of the fortress, and her solid and fleshy and sinuous body eventually metamorphosizes into a strikingly creamy white slim streak against the fortress' diabolically ancient pre-Christian architecture, a foreboding image presaging the end of Hitler's Klingsorian reign.
Shortly after this exercise, Eva, isolated and alienated, ponders her situation as she fingers a medallion with a picture of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus.
Perceived as a Nazi by the world, she is, in Sukurov's reality, a misunderstood, intelligent, energetic, passionate, curious young woman ignored and marginalized by the situation she is trapped in.
Her youthful enthusiasm and exuberance and intellectual aptness is contrasted against Adolph's hypochondriac demeanour and his flubbery physique and dementia and overall buffoonery.
The hours unfold adagio-like in the vastly shadowed bare fortress and misty desolate landscape, the quietude echoes, the atmosphere is nightmarish and ghastly, the interactions are theatrically presented like a staged play, the people lost in deeply pensive thought, wandering aimlessly, morbidly play-acting in order to avoid confronting the monstrosities of their deeds (except for Hitler whose eyes orgasmically gleam as he watches war footage of destruction), people knowing their time is running out...
The poisonous auras of Hitler and his enclave eventually break Eva, and by the end of the day, after endless humiliations inflicted on her by the clumpy clumsy sexually impotent Adolph, she transforms from a vibrant living person into to a deathly spectral ghost.
She breaks like the sun, reeling from her morning gymnastic ascent in the sky to a nightfall run down a flight of stairs and a plunge down a shaft and a dive into the fortress' underground into the nighttime blackness, a fall into death, into Hell, into Sheol, into nothingness.
She tells Adolph, whom she calls Adi, early in the film -
Do you know what my dad told me in 1929, when we met? "This young man is an absolute zero". Now, we know that he was dead wrong. You got the better not only of him, but also of millions of others. But even if you are a zero, so what? Would this change anything in our relationship, in my feelings for you? I "The most delicate thing on earth - beauty. What can match the power of this delicate thing? As long as you're alive, I'm alive."
At the very end of day, and the film, Hitler says that they will conquer death. Her response, the last words of the film -
"Adi, how can you say that? Death is death. No one can conquer it."
10/10, one of Sokurov's best films, one of the greatest Russian films ever crafted, one of three of the greatest depictions of Hitler ever released (the other two are The Great Dictator and Der Untergang).
I thought the theme of this movie was quite interesting. Still in the end, the result could have been better. What I enjoyed the most in the end was the scenery created around Hitler's "last resort". It really gave the impression of a new Olympus, with human gods around the german Zeus, "die führer"(at least as they saw themselves...). Still, what I found bad in the end was not the soviet approach, as I read in previous comments nor the vision of Hitler as a stupid good fellow(that has to do with the director's origins in the first case and with his vision of history and of the past in the second; if none of these elements were present in the movie than it would be the same as if it had been directed by Bertolucci or Coppolla!...; this gives identity to the creator and to his piece...). What was the true failure in this film, the way I see it, was that besides the director's new characterization of hitler and his hidding place, there were no "juicy" dialogues, no real reflexion about any theme, ideologically speaking or even supported in happenings that might have been occurring in that time. In the end I didn't feel the pulse of the characters, it's like if they were dead, with no capacity to rule the world as the gods they pretended to be... Still I had the sublime impression that they were like resting as if they were not responsable for what was going on in the world, in a lunatic attitude that I believe was close to the reality... 7/10
I showed it to students and even they, young American teenagers did not find it slow or boring. I just hate this word applied to films 'slow'. What does it suppose to mean? The film is not long, I did not notice the passage of time. It is a very subtle but unforgettable encounter with Hitler when you actually feel like you met not only him but also his entourage, that you met them personally and, man, what an experience it is! This film avoids all blaming, categorization, any simplification as well because this kind of 'Hitlers' are well known through other films. There is no interest to do the same. This is different, new, original. Not for everyone, yes. Thanks God.
This is not a film one "likes" in the ordinary sense that one might
like, say "The Sound of Music." It is, however a film that could be
admired for it's intention and for much of it's execution. I admired
much of what the director was attempting, an unconventional look at
Hitler's private life as an isolated, paranoid, lonely, often clueless
individual who cannot connect with any kind of reality, but is still
loved for himself by Eva.
Moloch is a curious, slow-moving construct, and is, in someways, about the disconnect between those who have power and those who depend upon them: the opening, featuring a nude Eva Braun dancing faun-like on some stone battlements in the fog, is odd and fascinating; what follows no less so, a sort of Fantasia On The Mad Dictator; the film is a curiosity.
Just it is difficult to nail down the character of W. C. Fields in a film, or Clark Gable, or Charlie Chaplin, it is always difficult to recreate the 20th Century's most notable villain, Adolph Hitler. Many from Alec Guinness and Anthony Hopkins to Richard Basehart have tried, but Bruno Ganz in Downfall offers the unimpeachable impersonation--but Downfall a different kind of film. Like the kinky film "Even Dwarfs Started Small," Moloch is an oddity, fascinating to some history or film fans, exasperating for most mainstream audiences.
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