The movie is based on real events and deals with the background to the shooting of Lang's thriller "M - A City is Looking for a Murderer." It is 1930 and Fritz Lang has been successfully active in the film business for eleven years. He is looking for material for a new film, a sound film. He is tired of the large-scale projects, his next film is said to be significantly smaller. In addition, there is a crisis in his relationship with Thea von Harbou, who seems to be more and more enthusiastic about the ideals of National Socialism. During his research, he comes across reports about a serial killer from Düsseldorf. He travels from Berlin to the Rhineland and joins the crime commissioner Ernst, who heads the investigation. Peter is arrested as a suspect, Fritz is given the opportunity to interview him. When he meets Anna, friend of a victim and suspected eyewitness, he is overwhelmed by memories of his first wife Lisa, who looks immensely similar to Anna, and who shot Peter when she ...
Filmmaker Fritz Lang (Heino Ferch) seeks inspiration for his first sound film, "M", by immersing himself in the case of serial killer Peter Kürten.
While there is no denying that Lang is one of the all-time great directors, it may not be said that he is one of the greatest human beings. This film offers a not so flattering portrayal of Lang – as a sexual deviant, spiteful, and so on, but it may be quite possibly accurate. Lang even almost identifies with the killer, at least on some level. Any good person can find sympathy or pity for even the worst of people, but Lang's feelings are different.
A good deal of artistic freedom is taken up, of course. There is no reason to believe that Lang had access to the victims of Kurten, or had extended conversations with him in jail. This makes for a good narrative, but is almost wholly invented. The portrayal of Lang as a questionable person, however, is quite true and the filmmakers should be given credit for not polishing him. Karl Freund, possibly the greatest cinematographer in history, broke off his friendship with Lang after it appeared that Lang had murdered his wife. Freund was one of the first on the scene and would know. Lang was never charged.
Heino Ferch is absolutely excellent in portraying Lang, and gives off just the right "vibe" that screams "misunderstood genius". If he looks familiar to English-speaking audiences, it may be from his roles in either "Run Lola Run" or "Downfall". Few German actors have an international following, but Ferch is the sort of actor who deserves one. (Seriously, try to think of a German actor. You might think of Christoph Waltz, but he is technically Austrian.)
The film is interspersed with Lang film clips, most noticeably from "M", and they blend in surprisingly well. Though they should be familiar to anyone who knows Lang's work, if you are less than familiar you may even believe that these were shot special to the film. And that is actually a great achievement.
Plotwise, it was a brilliant choice for a time in Lang's life, as it allows for a juicier story with child serial murder all around; the script gives Kurten a revenge motive rather than the traditional "lustmorder" motive, but this does tend to make him deeper and more interesting. Really, there are numerous incidents in Lang's life that could have worked for a film (as mentioned above, the murder of his wife is one). But as far as a behind-the-scenes making-of, there is no better choice than "M", possibly his masterpiece (though others would argue for "Metropolis").
"Fritz Lang" is screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 28, 2017. It is the perfect film for those who love the history of film. And even if not, it just so happen to be a very interesting story.
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