10/06/2011

CONSPIRACY (2001) - AT THE TABLE OF DEATH

Conspiracy is a 2001 TV movie starring several  popular British actors such as Kenneth Branagh, Colin Firth, Brendan Coyle, as well as  American film stars like Stanley TucciIt dramatizes the 1942 Wannsee Conference. The film delves into the psychology of Nazi officials involved in the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" during World War II. It is also a partial remake of the German film The Wannsee Conference (1984).
On January 20, 1942, 15 men gathered in a villa on the outskirts of Berlin for a clandestine meeting that would ultimately seal the fate of the European Jewish population. Ninety minutes later, the blueprint for Hitler’s Final Solution was in place. Adolf Eichmann prepared 30 top-secret copies of the meeting’s minutes. By the fall of the Reich, all had disappeared or been destroyed—except one. The Wannsee Protocol, found in the files of the Reich’s Foreign Office, is the only document where the details of Hitler’s maniacal plan were actually codified, and serves as the basis for Conspiracy.

It is an interesting Holocaust movie I had never heard about and which I'm very happy I came to see. Well, happy is not at all how I felt while watching it, rather ... stunned, indignant, speechless, helpless. What was going on on that screen, before my eyes, was not something unknown to me ,  but to be there watching how the slaughter of millions of people was decided at a table, during a bureaucratic gathering of bureaucrats, cold and professional, with moments of tough clash and incredible tension but never, not for a moment, of human compassion made me start reflecting on what I was doing . I was there going on with my ordinary Sunday tasks and that  made me feel as guilty as those people the actors were pretending to be.

They were arguing  and discussing, pointing out and voting, evaluating and resolving, enumerating and calculating as if they were not talking of people and  I was ironing and watching as if that was any film? 
All those men were aware they were signing death sentences for millions. Upsetting, shocking, and I was there doing ordinary stuff and feeling guilty. Right so. One should stop and feel scared of how easily we forget, how easily we inure ourselves to death, violence, war. Our tendency to habit - forming is worrying. We are so accustomed to war reports and violent episodes in the news that it is more and more difficult to get involved and moved to compassion. Especially if the terrible slaughter is something old enough to be studied in history books. Numbers. Six millions. Could you imagine if you started suffering for each of them as if he/she was an old mate you've lost? One couldn't bear all that sorrow, I know, but at least I thought, I had to let that sense of guilt work its work.  That is why I stopped doing what I was doing, I sat and watched the rest of this film in due silence, stillness and concentration.
  


Look at them in this picture. Was it really that inane? That trivial? That boringly beaurocratic?  
Definitely, absurdly so. The Banality of Evil.


Colin Firth plays Wilhelm Stuckart  and succeeds in the not at all easy task of convincingly play the tendency to legal strictness in this man, who was not easily convinced to vote for the Final Solution of the Jew Question at the Wannsee Conference in 1942. He had been given the task of co-writing together with Bernhard Lösener and Franz Albrecht Medicus the anti-Semitic Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour and The Reich Citizenship Law, together better known as the Nuremberg Laws, which were imposed by the Nazi-controlled Reichstag on September 15, 1935. However, at the Wannsee conference he strongly supported the idea of sterilization for the Jews opposing the idea of their massive evacuation to the concentration camps. He just obtusely fought for his laws, his actions were not moved by any pity. 


Kenneth Branagh is Reinhard Heydrich, the leader of the 15 Nazis sitting around that table of death, brilliant and so convincing at demonstrating his thesis in all their lucid folly. 
Stanley Tucci is Adolf Eichmann, the officer who, thanks to his  organizational talents and ideological reliability,  was charged of  facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe. 
Brendan Coyle is Heinrich Muller, chief of the Gestapo, the political secret state police of Nazi Germany, involved in the planning and execution of the Holocaust.


All actors admitted they had a tough, disturbing time at playing their roles in Conspiracy. They were secluded on a claustrophobic set and embodying appallingly murderous minds. Their performances were brilliant and the goal  of the director, Frank Pierson, reached:  he didn't want to present a traditional dramatization of history but a close approximation of actually being there, as if it were a live event. 


We are used to being moved to tears while watching Holocaust movies from the victims' point of view. Now, try this one, a punch in the stomach, it is: you are just on the other side and forced to share the table of the persecutors, you are there while they discuss the eradication of an entire race over food, drinks and cigars. You can but feel guilty and ashamed. You can but be convinced of the stunning ease with which the seed of mass evil can germinate ...


This is the latest addition to my WWII DVD collection, Holocaust section:  a devastating - honestly depressing - film but a very good one,  in its simple, plain, skillful dramatization of reality. No need for  special effects or fictional additions: the enormity of the truth is compelling and appalling enough.

3 comments:

Traxy said...

Loved your review, MG! Haven't seen this film but it sounds very uncomfortable, for the reasons you describe. The human is the most cruel animal on this planet. :(

lunarossa said...

Saw this film a few years ago on a a demo tape as it wasn't out in the UK yet. I found it very disturbing and, although I haven't watched it again since, I remember it very well. Very disturbing as you say. Branagh's performance was absolutely chilling. Maybe I like Colin Firth too much to be convinced of him as a heartless Nazi officer! Ciao. A. (managed to comment only through Firefox)

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Traxy
Sad but true, Traxy. And unbelievably so, since we humans are endowed with reason.
@lunarossa
Glad to have you back on Fly High, A. I know the problem was the browser now. I've got Chrome and have no problems with comments on any site. As for the film, you are right, Branagh was incredible. What terrible roles to play for those great actors!