CAPSULE: LOOK WHO’S BACK (2015)

Er ist Wieder da

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Oliver Masucci, Fabian Busch, Franziska Wulf

PLOT: After a seven-decade hiatus, Adolf Hitler returns to Berlin, emerging alive from his cremation pit outside his erstwhile bunker to take modern Germany by storm when he’s mistaken for a comedian.

Still from Look Who's Back (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Comedies focusing on Adolf Hitler have been around since at least 1940, and have been a part of cinema in fits and starts ever since. Look Who’s Back is the latest film taking a jaded view of the whole Hitler phenomenon. It is often funny and sometimes thought-provoking, but far from weird.

COMMENTS: Look Who’s Back is a series of gambles. It aims to be a buddy comedy. It includes filmed interactions with real people. It uses the medium of film to satirize the more popular media of television and the internet. It takes on the wimps and bullies of modern politics using a mid-20th-century perspective. And, of course, the biggest gamble is the man providing that perspective: Adolf Hitler. One has to judge a movie like this on whether these gambles pay off. Do they? Mostly.

Adolf Hitler (Oliver Masucci) remains an undaunted version of his old self. Anyone who’s seen Downfall (or otherwise knows a bit of history) will recognize the strange mix of unflappability and histrionics that defined the 20th-century’s most notorious figure. Upon awakening amidst a puff of smoke, the erstwhile Führer assesses his situation. Surrounded by buildings and prosperity, as well as all manner of ethnicities, he keeps his cool as he makes his way to a newspaper stand. As Hitler finds his footing, a hapless loser of a freelance newsman, Fabian Sawatzki (Fabian Busch), becomes his guide. Together in a flower van borrowed from Sawatzki’s mother, they tour the country: interacting with locals, taking in the scenery, and having a bad run-in with a dog breeder (something that comes back to haunt them). Clips of Hitler’s shenanigans go viral, he lands a number of TV gigs, and becomes a media sensation.

Look Who’s Back is at its finest in the first half as a whimsical buddy comedy. The unlikely chemistry of Masucci’s Hitler and Busch’s Sawtzki is humorous and touching. As bombastic as he ever was, Hitler waxes grandiloquent; Sawatzki, while listening to and showing off his find, can barely believe that such a man could exist now, much less ever. In their way, they’re cute together. This chemistry gets put to the side during the second half, when things get a bit too Network-y. A TV studio picks up the act, and all the points made in the classic 1976 satire about the evils of pursuing ratings are rehashed, spiced up with YouTube and social media jabs. It seems that the modern world can accept a crazy racist with charisma; a line is crossed, however, when the truth about the dog comes out.

Running close to two hours, Look Who’s Back tries to cover a lot of ground. Its biggest gamble pays off to such an extent that whenever Hitler is not on screen, the movie sags. A couple of sub-plots involving machinations at the TV studio and Sawatzki’s romantic pursuit of a secretary (Franziska Wulf) seem tacked on and make for some cumbersome dead time. Look Who’s Back would have done better as a television show: this masterful Hitler impersonator roaming Germany and interacting with unsuspecting civilians could have made for a biting series à la Sacha Baron Cohen (whose antics this Hitler probably would have liked). As it stands, it’s definitely worth a view, but you may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of wanting more Führer for your time.

Look Who’s Back is not currently on DVD in North America—although a German Region B Blu-ray with English subtitles is available—but it was streaming on Netflix at the time of this writing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Masucci is well-chosen, but the film would have benefited from a much shorter, focused narrative.”–Stepahn Hedmark, “Thrill Me Softly”

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