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It is also interesting because of background information provided by the people in Bonhoeffer's life, such as a niece, nephew, close friend, and sister to his fiancee. Plus, for those who love the German language, many of his former students and some clergy speak in German on camera with a translation. Haunting and highly recommended.
This film gave me a better understanding of what it must have been like to be a citizen in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century than anything else I've experienced. This explanation of the chain of events that led to brutal violence toward the Jewish people in Europe as well as the moral examination of the Christian response to the socio-political position of Nazi Germany answered so many of the questions I've always asked. "How could such a majority of the Germans be persuaded to support the causes of the Third Reich?" "What motivated Germans to act with such hatred?" and "What were Christians thinking and doing during this time?" The only reason I did not give the film a rating of 10 was because the person I watched the film with fell asleep so I wish it would have captured that person's attention as it did mine. I pray that the story is spread to many others either through this film or perhaps a major Blockbuster style account of these events. The good news that Bonhoeffer believed in so completely and the God he gave his life to offer so much more hope to an audience that cries out for the answer to the question "Why, God?" than a story like "Life is Beautiful" ever could. Movie producers everywhere: "Listen to the story of Bonhoeffer and watch this film".
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.
The film itself is well-made and follows a standard documentary format, with period films, stills and interviews with surviving friends and family. Significant passages from Bonhoeffer's writing are mixed into the narrative description.
Bonhoeffer was a pastor, teacher and theologian. His life was not exciting in the conventional sense, although he did some spying against the Nazis that must have been nerve racking. And much of this film is spent relating belief and action. The question asked and answered for him was a simple one: To what extent are our actions the consequence of our beliefs? It's the question we are left to ponder for ourselves.
Humor shows up unintended. The most interesting parts are when history reveals one thing and the religious people they interview have interpretations completely disconnected with that reality. You laugh at their either intended deception or utter naiveté. One might say the film makes a better study of cognitive dissonance.
In the end, it comes off like listening to priests excusing the activity of fellow priest sex offenders. Maybe a more accurate comparison would be the Bush administration excusing itself for lying about Iraq and the war by claiming it wasn't intentional and taking credit for the newspapers and organizations that disagreed with it from the beginning since they are American.
So, while the story of Bonhoeffer provides an interesting addition to history, it really isn't worthy of a theater. It's best viewed within the context of a course on World War 2 history, so that it can be fully understood that while Bonhoeffer was a part of a group in the Protestant church that fought against Nazi Germany, most of that same church, including its leaders, supported the Nazis, just as they now support Bush at the time this film was made.