The spate of Nazi-themed films both fictional and documentary seems to have become a tidal wave of late. Difficult to assess critically because of the impossibility of separating intent from results — who’s going to savage even a really bad anti-fascist film after all, except perhaps the outer fringes of the web where eczema-moraled National Front wannabe bloggers reside?— opinion is often guarded. The reason for this torrent of films, many homegrown, that deal with many aspects of the German trauma seems to be generational. Some 60 years after the end of the Third Reich, Germans, who after the war retreated into a default stunned neutrality, have given way to the offspring of both perpetrators and victims who approach the subject matter with a more detached perspective than its direct participants.
The questions of the subsequent generation are at the heart of Malte Ludin’s film about his father, a man whose existence had always seemed little more than a shadow. Despite the fact his father was tried and executed in 1947 for his crimes as a member of the SS, Ludin had always lived with the comforting fiction that Ludin Sr., officially a functionary in Slovakia during the war, was a well-meaning man caught in the vortex of history, weak perhaps, but not evil. By poring over documents and interviewing witnesses, a portrait of his father emerges as a man who did his work willingly, even eagerly. Ludin takes his discovery to his two older sisters and confronts them, eventually challenging them to defend their ambivalence in the face of evidence. An older interview given by his late mother, during which she wrestles with these questions, becomes a dialogue that has familial and, of course, national implications. While it can descend occasionally into a pettiness that diminishes its intentions (Holocaust debate as sibling rivalry?), Ludin has succeeded in transforming his remarkable, if not unique, perspective into an act of cinematic empathy.