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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Tim Roth, Jouko Ahola, Anna Gourari, Jacob Wein
Director: Werner Herzog

Caught in the daily updates of Israel vs Palestine – one wonders if pride and hatred are the only human characteristics which are truly Invincible. Human strength is surely defeatable – and ironically so in the case of Jewish strong man Zishe Breitbart who died before Hitler invaded his native Poland.

Film and documentary maker Werner Herzog tells the story of Breitbart (Jouko Ahola), son of a blacksmith who was talent-scouted after beating a strong-man at a travelling circus in the early 1930s. Lured away from his shekl to the bright lights of Berlin, Breitbart was put to work for Hanussen (Tim Roth) a hypnotist who had caught the imagination of the Nazis, and saw himself as a potential Minister for the Occult if Hitler were to come to power. Breitbart, transformed by a bad blonde wig was to play Siegfried the German hero against Hanussen on stage in an attempt to show how brains could always outwit brawn. Breitbart is happy to go along with the charade at first, but has his eyes turned to the true evil of his employer when he sees how Hanussen treats the delicate pianist Marta Farra, forced to serve him because in an age of political instablity she has the misfortune to be stateless.

This is a truly remarkable film not only for the quality of Herzog’s direction, but for its portrayal of a bizarre world inhabited by Himmler and Goebbels who like many of the elite Nazis of the time were frequent visitors to Hanussen’s Theatre of the Occult. The characters and their beliefs are intriguing. If you recognised the name Jouko Ahola who plays Breitbart it’s not because he’s an actor but because he was the Finn who won the World’s Strongest Man in 1997and 99, and he plays the gentle giant Breitbart in such an unassuming, unpolished way it’s fascinating. Herzog also persuaded the Tartar pianist Anna Gourari to play the role of Marta Farra and when she plays Beethoven’s third piano concerto it’s spellbinding. As for Tim Roth as the wonderfully dark Hanussen – he’s superb in that he’s got that always-on-the-edge-of-something-rather-violent quality which he does so well – even learning to hypnotise people for real for the role. Watch out for the most frighteningly uncomfortable hypnotism scene you’re ever likely to see at the cinema.

6 out of 6 stars