Jul 23, 2012
A couple years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with an elderly German mensch named Dieter who came of age during the rise and fall of the Third Reich. To this day, this kindhearted – if often thoroughly inebriated –Teuton, is an unrepentant true believer of the long vanquished National Socialist cause. During one of our talks, he told me how, "Hitler would be in the American White House" had history gone in the direction he thought it would as a young Hitler-Jugend recruit from Frankfurt. Naturally, his American-born children and grandchildren found his nostalgia for Nazism to be a tad bit bothersome due to growing up in a nation that places Steven Spielberg films as the height of cinematic perfection and thus write-off the aged Aryan’s hysterical Hitlerism as a sign of mere elderly eccentricity and naivety. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch the fiercely farcical German arthouse epic Heilt Hitler!: A German Motion Picture (1986) aka Heal Hitler! directed by Herbert Achternbusch (Das Gespenst aka The Ghost, Servus Bayern aka Bye-Bye Bavaria!); a film that – somewhat peculiarly but not unsurprisingly – reminded me of my seemingly surreal conversations with the unusually charismatic German old-timer. Heilt Hitler! follows a German soldier with a Little Richard/John Waters mustache named Herbert (played by director Herbert Achternbusch) who has become so disgruntled with the war effort in the Battle for Stalingrad that he rather turn himself into a human statue than waste time combating endless swarms of untermensch russkies. Forty years later, Herbert wakes up at a war memorial in Munich thinking he is still in Stalingrad and that the Thousand Year Reich has secured final victory. Like the Dieter I knew personally, Herbert is a living relic trapped in a world he is not mentally (and to some extent, physically) equipped for. At over 2 hours in length, Heilt Hitler! is an absurdist super 8 saga that is like Back to the Future Part II (1989) meets the consciously and satirically German films of Christoph Maria Schlingensief (Terror 2000, The 120 Days of Bottrop). Seemingly plot-less in structure, Heilt Hitler! takes an anti-nostalgic and less than sentimental look at twentieth century German history in the structure of a freeform cinematic poem. In Achternbusch’s Germany, Aryan women become quite jubilant at the prospect of offering their minds and bodies to American G.I.s in return for cartons of cigarettes and even attack one of their own men to protect an exotic enemy soldier (aka American Negro), yet such seemingly deplorable scenarios are portrayed in such a curiously caricatured and pleasantly preposterous fashion that one can only respond by smiling jovially; be the viewer a German nationalist or second-generation holocaust survivor.
Despite its many incessant esoteric digressions, nonsensical poetic ramblings, and satirical situationist scenarios, Heilt Hitler! is ultimately a film about family and everything it entails (e.g. incest, bickering, philandering, etc), most specifically Herbert Achternbusch’s own dysfunctional rural Bavarian kith and kin. In the film, the female characters have quite a hard time discerning who the father of their child is. One genius of a Bavarian peasant even convinces an American Negro that he should breed with racially pure German woman so they can, “tell their kids apart. If one of them has a little of your color….these women have looked alike for generations…..No one can tell them apart. Not even the authorities. There’s got to be some form of order.” Indeed, in Heilt Hitler!, the rationalization for miscegenation comes down to the stereotypical Germanic love for order. As much as I disdain dysgenic and nihilistic race-mixing, I think most Fassbinder fans will agree that the world would be a better place with a couple more mulatto Bavarian fellows like Günther Kaufmann (R.I.P.). One can only assume that Heilt Hitler! is Achternbusch’s own kooky way of discrediting National Socialism and the generation that passionately and unwaveringly supported it. Bastard babies or not, one cannot argue that the illegitimate children of Heilt Hitler! are the product of racial mingling and thus – to Achternbusch's blatant and hypercritical disgust – are in league with the National Socialist ideology of Blut und Boden. When Herbert is transported into the future, he is lucky enough to be just in time for a wedding that may or not be for his own child. Although some things have changed in the peasant countryside in Heilt Hitler!, other things, like incest and family secrets, are perennial, henceforth leading the viewer to believe that the blood-on-the-hands of previous generations is innate and passed on through the blood with each new generation of Germans. Like fellow German pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer over a century before him, it seems that Herbert Achternbusch is a staunch antinatalist.
At the war memorial in Munich’s Hofgarten, the inscription “They Will Rise Again” is engraved. In Heilt Hitler!, a Munich couple mocks the memorial and remark that the soldiers died for nothing. Undoubtedly, after viewing the film there is quite clear that Herbert Achternbusch concurs with this ostensibly cynical sentiment. Ironically, Herbert does rise again, but only to eventually realize that the familial discord that plagued his personal life before the war has only been compounded and that Germany has been dealt the ultimate defeat; being conquered by semi-Asiatic Slavic hordes. While wandering around Munich in a daze, Herbert is quite startled to realize that the world no longer has Kotzis and Nazis, but only money; too much money or not enough money. Like the old German man named Dieter that I conversed with a couple years ago, Herbert is a man from a despised generation that time has forgotten. Not even his own progeny (whoever they may be) are interested in honoring his legacy, even if he has been quasi-supernaturally resurrected in a fantastic sort of way. It is most apparent while watching Heilt Hitler! that Achternbusch has no empathy for the pain and struggle suffered by his fellow Bavarian countrymen of the past, thus the film comes across as an especially sardonic tragicomedic romp that takes no prisoners; blood relative or not. With jocular lines like, “just imagine how boring it is in a concentration camp? Dead Boring,” it is not hard to see why Heilt Hitler! is an exceedingly facetious family affair of the most meretricious and batty kind that proves that the international tribe that was Germany's enemy during the Second World War are not the only Kings of Comedy. As for Dieter, he went on to produce five or six different children with four different women (one being of the non-Aryan sort), although most of his family members seem to agree that one his sons – who is apparently really his grandson – was the product of a borderline incestuous relationship between his eldest son and his second wife.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 7:55 PM
Soiled Sinema 2007 - 2013. All rights reserved. Best viewed in Firefox and Chrome.