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In 1938 Hans Zeisig, an apolitical comedian, impersonator and cabaret actor, flees with a Russian passport (instead of American, which he would have preferred) from Nazi-Berlin, and finds himself in the legendary Hotel Lux, the 'lost paradise' of the Comintern, in Moscow. Everyone believes that Zeisig is a man named Hansen, Hitler's personal astrologer. But Zeisig quickly realizes that he's gone from the frying pan into the fire. In the Hotel Lux he meets his friends Frida and later Meyer again, still passionate communists. For the three idealists an adventure between love and death begins to run its course. Written by
Without the apparatchiks of Germany's film subsidy system movies like "Hotel Lux" would never come into existence. It has been financed by seven different subsidy bureaucracies. A lot of long, long corridors to walk along, a lot of forms to fill, a lot of functionaries to convince. They love to hear new ideas that they already know.
The basic plot of "Hotel Lux" is from "To Be or Not to Be", with a bit of "Hitler--Dead or Alive" (both from 1942). But of course it starts with "Cabaret", which in 1972 established the fact that the Berlin of the early 1930s was basically a variety theater. It might be fun for some nerds to spot all the little details from the 1972-Cabaret incorporated in this 2011 version. But in this cabaret hindsight rules supreme. "Hitler" and "Stalin" dancing and singing as good friends in 1933 - and the audience giving this performance a standing ovation? This is gimmicky pulp fiction. And if you can enjoy the ludicrousness of self-righteousness, you might have a ball.
Next stop: Moscow, or rather the long, long corridors of the Hotel Lux in Moscow, probably built and run by Franz Kafka. A lot of communist emigrants live here, under the permanent threat of being arrested and shot by other communists, when a denunciator has labeled them as "Trotskyists". Many of the apparatchiks behave like robots, a ghastly, alien breed. Some famous names join the party. Meet Mr. Walter Ulbricht, who in 1961 ordered the construction of the Berlin Wall, building a wall with sugar cubes. Meet Mr. Stalin, who is an old paranoiac, so scared of hidden microphones that he wouldn't talk without turning the faucet on. Poor Stalin, so very afraid of the "apparat", just like the average Joe.
Life is very cheap at the Hotel Lux. It's the time of Stalin's Great Purge that did cost up to 1.2 million lives within two years. A strange backdrop for a comedy. Even stranger is the fact that we are still supposed to sympathize with two of the three main characters who are hardcore communists themselves.
This is neither a comedy nor a thriller. It offers only a pulp version of history. What kind of target audience did the producers have in mind? It didn't find much of any. But that's the beauty of Germany's film subsidy system, I guess, things like that don't matter too much.
Movie buffs might be entertained by the many quotes, some might appreciate the production and costume design. The specialists of the "apparat" will proudly consider "Hotel Lux" a well made piece of cinema. Except for historians, "Hotel Lux" is not really annoying, it's just boring. But if you are in a desperate situation where your only alternative would be to watch paint dry, I would recommend this movie. It's better than that. ("Bad German Movies"-Review No. 15)
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