Quick synopsis: Mr Polsky (David Hayman), a reclusive, grumpy Holocaust survivor convinces himself that his new neighbour is none other than Adolf Hitler (Udo Kier).
Yup, this is about Hitler. It is possible for films about Hitler to be good, and it is possible for them to be funny. JoJo Rabbit did it wonderfully. It’s all about tone though, you need to adequately put forward the horrors of who he was, and yet make it palatable for the audience. You make it too comedic and it will seem disrespectful, you make it too serious, and it won’t be funny. You also need a good concept. If the concept isn’t there then it will seem like you’re just doing a Hitler film for the sake of it and it just seems exploitative. The concept for this is at the very least interesting. The idea that a holocaust survivor is certain his neighbour is Hitler, but can’t prove it, is ripe for drama. But it never quite lives up to the idea the film presents. It has an identity crisis. Does it want to be a film about trauma, about forgiveness, or about isolation? Even in terms of genre it feels confused, does it want to be a tense personal drama, or a cosy comfortable comedy aimed at the grey market? It wants to be all of these things and more, which means it ends up being nothing.
There are moments where it is heartbreakingly tense and dramatic. The fact that the plot is kicked off by “Hitler” wanting to take some of Polsky’s land claiming it belonged to him all along, is incredibly clever and something the film needs more of. There are so many moments like this, where it’s obvious the creators have done their research into the historical Hitler. It makes some strange choices with it though. It has Polsky attempting to catch a glimpse of Hitler naked (to check how many testicles he has) and it’s played as incredibly dramatic. I mean, yes, it is incredibly absurd, and the film knows that, but it’s also genuinely moving and much more dramatic than you’d expect a “show me your balls” scene to mean.
It’s a shame the rest of the film can’t be as tense. It’s weirdly cosy. If you went into this not knowing the historical context, and just zoned in and out of the dialogue, then it wouldn’t seem like a film about a monster moving next door to a member of a community which he committed untold horrors to. It would seem like a film about elderly men playing chess together after getting into a small argument about black roses. The whole thing brings to mind the standard British comedies starring Maggie Smith or Timothy Spall, just, you know, with an added Hitler. I never thought I’d say this, but it kind of feels like they’ve taken the holocaust and then Exotic Marigold Hotel’d it. And I’m just as surprised that I’ve uttered that sentence as you are.
The performances are as good as you expect them to be. Udo Kier continues to have the most piercing eyes in Hollywood, and injects his performance with the menace required. David Hayman is really good too, but I feel his presence in it adds to the “Cosy British Comedy Aimed At Old People” feeling to it. The opening is stunning, it has some callbacks later on, but is utterly rather nothing. It’s a shame as this could have been used to demonstrate the horror. Prudovky seems to shy aware from that, if you watched this on silent you would get almost every aspect of this film; the love, the conflict, the emotion, but you wouldn’t get the terror. That’s ultimately what lets this film down, it’s far too, I dunno, treacly? As it goes on, it does get better, the revelation at the end is pulled off masterfully and is really the best way a film like this could end. There’s also a story Polsky tells where it does briefly expose the fear of living in Nazi Germany, but it’s only done in a “and I did the same to you” style plot development to equate the two people (which is a bit weird).