“How can a man fail so horribly as I have?” Angst driven drama even when based on a true story is never as fun to watch as drama driven by passion. In “13 Minutes”, the story of the methodical, politically conscience-driven Georg Elser is told. Here, is a young German who in 1939 sees that Hitler is bad for Germany, and decides to blow him up.
Christian Fieidel, the 38 year-old German actor who was nominated for best actor in this film, shows the proper amount of shock and fear once he is caught. And the excruciating torture scenes add a stubbornness and willingness to sacrifice for the common good to his name. The screenplay misses the mark in not giving Fieidel a means to show his hatred of the Third Reich’s leadership. We see him tense when the bigotry against Jews seeps into the provinces, and when he joins forces with a few friends, and defames Hitler with graffiti; but, more passion is required in this mastermind-of-a-resistance fighter.
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel does an admirable job with the use of flashbacks. We see Georg look at those twenty years younger than he parroting vile anti-Semitic chants. We see the ugly bullying, but we don’t see seething anger from our protagonist. For an hour and a half, we wait to see why this one German Folklore Society member, Georg Elser, worked so meticulously and so alone. We never see the spark of an answer.
History tells us that Elser’s dynamite box killed eight people and injured over fifty, but Hitler left the gathering thirteen minutes early and foiled his own death.
When the Gestapo finds implements to incriminate Elser, they can not bring themselves to believe that he acted alone. A conspiracy would elevate their investigation and their egos. As the Gestapo stated, ” It is highly unlikely that an apolitical person would commit these acts.” Though Georg’s work as apprentice clockmaker and carpenter honed needed skills for the undertaking, the boldness of his attempt struck a chord only with Resistance fighters. Hitler and his band, of course, were infuriated and embarrassed.
Elser is also a musician,who plays the zither, the accordion, and the piano. The flashback scenes tell us that he was a smart artist, who liked the beer hall, experienced girls, and a feeling of accomplishment. “13 Minutes” shows us a good German, who alone tried to do something to stop The Third Reich. The film also shows a German officer’s hanging in 1944 because he was part of another plot to kill Hitler. Secret service member and eventually, Hitler’s Chief of Interpol, Arthur Nebe, was hanged hanged using a piano wire and a meat hook. This is shown in the film, and Elser hears about it in Dachau. Is this film a response to the question of why Germans did not do more?
The provincial scenes of potato pickers, harvest festivals, and trampling boots amid the shepherds set the place evocatively. We hear talk of the 1937 bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica. Violation of International Law and German Panzer tanks mix with Georg building a cradle for his and the married Elsa’s child. Georg’s conscience seems to void any sexual qualms.
“Hitler is bad for Germany” is what we get. Georg’s personal life tells us very little other than that his father was a drunken bully, whom he hated. Even under hypnosis, Georg sticks to “I did it on my own. No one helped me.” He asks to see a priest, but is refused. Two separate scenes have him reciting The Our Father. We also here phrases from Hitler as he speaks: ” Destiny has assisted us…”, “We are aware…”, “We National Socialists have always been fighters…”.
A people’s court rules death for high treason, but not until 1945 is Elser removed from Dachau concentration camp and shot days before Dachau is liberated in 1945. Heinrich Muller ( Johann von Bulow ) gets the infamous credit for pure vindictiveness here.
Elser hums music in lieu of answering his interrogators. Images of his life float by: his mother doing washing, his father cider woozy, a Tango with Elsa. If Elser is “a country boy with ideological convictions”, we never hear them. His actions are in the forefront. The German film ” Labyrinth Of Lies” ( reviewed Nov 14th, 2015) did a better job of showing the intricacies of this inexhaustible subject. But for those who can never learn enough of the German experiment, here is another story of a little known man.