"Ein ganz gewöhnlicher Jude": The Power of Words By Mariano Morace

in 12nd Geneva Festival Tous Ecrans

by Mariano Morace

Oliver Hirschbiegel (born in Hamburg in 1957) became a cook on a boat, after having interrupted his studies, but later went back to focusing on painting and graphic arts as well as photography and video.

After having directed for Television (including police series like Tatort and Kommissar Rex), he turned to feature-films, culminating in his realizing the controversial The Experiment (Das Experiment) in 2001. Hirschbiegel is not afraid to experiment in his films either. In 2002 he released My Latest Film (Mein letzter Film), a monologue of a 50 year old lady about her life: past, present and future. He is also able to dazzle his viewers in other controversial films such as the controversial Downfall (Der Untergang) in 2004, with Bruno Ganz playing Adolf Hitler.

“What does being a Jew nowadays mean?” Emanuel Goldfarb, a Jewish journalist, is asked by the director of a Jewish community in Germany to respond to an invitation from a professor and speak to his pupils about his life as a Jew in Germany. This conversation, performed by Goldfarb and the director of the community, is the only scene of Ein ganz gewohnlicher Jude (literally: A very ordinary Jew), the latest film by Hirschbiegel presented at the Festival of Film and Television of Geneva, which was filmed outdoors, the only moment where something apparently happens. However, this is when the word reigns supreme.

Emanuel Goldfarb is alone in his apartment and on his Dictaphone he expresses his rage about the feeling of violation in one’s private life. He attempts to write a sarcastic letter to the professor after being immersed in the memories of his childhood and talks about how the others see you, the ‘pity’ which is far too often discovered, about the rational and irrational relationship between Jewish traditions. He talks about his family which was destroyed by Nazi barbarism and finally decides to write and transform his thoughts in an emotional existential analysis that will lead him to return to the class and meet the professor and his pupils. Masterfully interpreted by Ben Becker, the protagonist offers us a brilliant monologue — adapted by Charles Lewinsky’s novel — a reflexion representing the cultural anchorage of the Jewish religion in Germany providing us with some true paths of understanding.

Hirschbiegel is currently shooting the third remake of The Invasion of Body Snatchers, by Don Siegel (further to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version and Abel Ferrara’s 1993 version), interpreted by Nicole Kidman. This demonstrates the versatility of the director who is capable of working on great Hollywood productions to small intimate movies.