Harlan-In the Shadow of Jew Suss
Directed by Felix Moller
The Triumph of the Will aside, Jew Suss remains the Nazi film industry's most infamous work of propaganda, an undisguised anti-Semitic allegory in which the stereotypical title villain gains control of 19th Century W�ƒ¼rttemberg through a devious moneylending scheme. Handpicked by Goebbels to helm this maliciously designed project (Himmler ordered it shown to all SS personnel) was leading German filmmaker Veit Harlan, who directed and co-wrote the film with his signature melodramatic kitsch. Suss consequently branded its creator: though eventually found innocent of war crimes, Harlan was forced throughout the remainder of his career to defend his participation in the Third Reich's campaign of hate.
How culpable was Harlan? Was he a reluctant director arm-twisted into producing ethnic caricatures and calls for anti-Jewish violence; an apolitical aesthete content to work under a murderous regime that allowed him to make pictures; or an out-and-out Nazi as enthusiastic as his superiors in vilifying Jews? What makes Felix Moeller's Harlan-In the Shadow Jew Suss such a compelling documentary despite a by-the-numbers talking head format is the consideration of these possibilities and more through its subject's descendents, a plethora of children, grandchildren, and other family members voicing conflicting speculations and judgments in regard to Harlan as well as varied atonements for the "inheritance of guilt" passed on by their notorious patriarch. Just as powerful are the ironies of history the clan embodies-the denunciation of Harlan by a granddaughter becomes all the more poignant with the revelation of the fate of her other grandfather, a German Jew killed in the Holocaust implicitly advocated by Jew Suss.
Opens March 3 at Film Forum