Portrait of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was imprisoned and killed by the Nazis for plotting to assassinate Hitler, conveys the essence of a man and his world. Bonhoeffer's life is lyrically presented, with his friends and family shedding light on his breakaway seminary, his travels to America and Harlem, his calls to change the world for better, and his noble attempts to respond to Nazi Germany as a Christian. Written by
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
The story of Dietrich Bonhoffer has been waiting to be told for some time. His life had many elements that easily make for a compelling movie. His refusal to fall in line with the Nazi party, his secret machinations to help overthrow Hitler and his eventual hanging as a spy are just a few of them.
Unfortunately, this documentary does little to build any excitement and mostly relies on a number of talking heads. Most of them are theological experts and historians. Some of them are prone to wander off on verbal tangents, losing the audience and losing focus.
The more interesting speakers are the people that actually knew the man, such as his brother-in-law and the sister of his fiance. Their recollections are the most insightful and interesting.
In the few times Bonhoffer is quoted, actor Klaus-Maria Brandauer speaks the words and does an excellent job. As someone else has noted, he would have done even better to have been the narrator. The person narrating the film seems rather wooden and distant from the material.
What truly seemed to be missing from this film was a sense of what drove Bonhoffer to do what he did --- which was to essentially break stride with the rest of the German Church and draw attention to himself in a time when such actions could cost him his life (which they eventually did). He spoke out against the mistreatment of Jews and even formed his own seminary. He went against his own pacifist views to take part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. What compelled him to do these things? The movie doesn't truly attempt to get at this.
While Bonhoffer is a good attempt at telling the story of a man who gave his life for what he believed in, it's honestly a rather boring documentary that will sadly be overlooked by most who aren't already familiar with Bonhoffer's life.
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