- My Führer (2007) [Original Title: Mein Führer - Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler] dir. by Dani Levy
Thus I rediscovered what writers have always known (and have told us again and again): books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.–Umberto Eco
The German film My Führer (Dani Levy, 2007) could very well be considered in light of this epigraph. If there is a story that has been written, told, discussed, and represented by a wide range of means, it is that of Hitler and Nazism. Linda Hutcheon, in A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (2003), quotes Eco in reference to the characteristic intertextuality of discourses that "use parody, not only to restore history and memory, (…) but also, at the same time, to put into question the authority of every act of writing by locating both discourses of history and fiction within an ever-expanding intertextual network that mocks any notion of singular origin or simple causality." She asserts that they demonstrate how these discourses impart "not only the recognition of textualized traces of the literary and historical past but also the awareness of what has been done—through irony—to those traces." Hutcheon goes on to cite Italo Calvino's Marco Polo in Invisible Cities (1978) noting that he simultaneously is—and is not—the historical Marco Polo, asking: "How can we, today, 'know' the Italian [End Page 116] explorer? We can only do so by means of texts—including his own (Il Milione)." Keeping in mind such notions, we may think of My Führer's Hitler as someone who both is and is not the historical Hitler.
The film tells the (imaginary) story of Adolf Grünbaum, a famous Jewish actor held prisoner at Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp and subsequently relocated to the Chancellery of the Reich at Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels' request. This is done in order to help the Führer come out of a state of paralysis and emotional crisis brought on by his irreversible failure at war. Goebbels' plan is that, once rejuvenated, Hitler might then lift the German people's spirits in a speech that would be filmed and showcased in hundreds of cinemas. At the crux of this plan, however, is the intention to assassinate Hitler, frame Grünbaum for the murder, and then take over the Reich.
My Führer can be divided into three main narrative sequences and an epilogue. The first segment begins in the present, during which time the story is introduced and framed. It begins with archival footage of one of the many parades preceding the Führer's speeches, displaying thousands of people in the streets as they greet the caravan of soldiers and Nazi officers and wave swastika-bearing flags. These images are reminiscent of Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935), references to which are continued throughout the film. Meanwhile, we hear in voiceover: "For the last 12 years, Germany has been ruled by a man born in idyllic Austria, someone who actually wanted to be a painter. But, since he was rejected by the arts academy, he became a National Socialist." We move from the scenes of the crowds to one that shows Hitler in a car as he greets the throngs in typical Nazi fashion while the voiceover continues: "This man is called Adolf Hitler. Undoubtedly, the Führer caused a furor among his people. Millions of men went to war for him. Millions of women wanted to bear his child."
All of these details have been parts of sensationalist journalistic stories and even of more "intentionalist" academic historiographies, which are still prevalent and often used to provide a "psychologistic" account of his behaviors: he wasn't German—he was a resentful, frustrated artist; these qualities are what turned him into a violent racist. The contrast between this story about the Führer's origins and the archival footage of thousands of...