Film Review: 13 MINUTES (Germany 2015) ****

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13 minutes.jpgIn November 1939, Georg Elser’s attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler fails, and he is arrested. During his confinement, he recalls the events leading up to his plot and his reasons for deciding to take such drastic action.

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Writers: Léonie-Claire Breinersdorfer (screenplay), Fred Breinersdorfer (screenplay)
Stars: Christian Friedel, Katharina Schüttler, Burghart Klaußner

Review by Gilbert Seah

A reenacted and partially imagined account of a true event, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 13 MINUTES tells of the attempted assassination of Adolph Hitler in 1939 by the planting of a bomb inside a column of a Munich bierkeller by German Georg Elser (Christian Friedel). The bomb detonates but misses killing Adolf Hitler, the German leader, by just 13 minutes.

Director Hirschniegel broke into the world film scene with DAS EXPERIMENT and made more headlines with his Oscar nominated Best Foreign Film DOWNFALL. 13 MINUTES lost to LABYRINTH OF LIES that year for Germany’s nominated entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar though 13 MINUTES is clearly the better film.
Watching the film, one would eventually wonder how Elser’s story came into fruition. It is clear from the film that Elser was arrested and told part of his story. Also, the explosion of the Munich bierkeller did occur and Elser confessed to the Nazis.

The film begins with Elser’s planting of the bomb and his arrest following. With maps of the building on him (why the hell would he not dispose of them after is the big question), the German Security Services link him to the assassination attempt. They believe Elser must have been working with a group of conspirators and torture him for information. They also round up members of his family from his home village, including Else Härlen (Katharina Schüttler), a married woman Elser has been seeing.

When Else Härlen is brought before Elser, he fears for her life and tells the police chief Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaußner) and Gestapo head Heinrich Müller (Johann von Bülow) that he acted alone, procuring detonators from a steel factory and stealing dynamite from a nearby quarry. All these events including how he came to despise the Nazis are shown in the film through flashbacks when Elser is interrogated in prison. He outlines the two clockwork mechanisms he built to time the explosion and hopefully kill Hitler as he made a speech.

Still believing Elser could not have attempted the assassination alone he once more tortured using drugs (Pervitin) but with the same result as before – he confirms acted alone. The audience is also led to believe this fact, unlikely as it seems that one person from a village could be so tech savvy.

Elser is beautifully played by Christian Friedel, displaying a countryside charm and one that would change character from innocent bystander to convicted assassin.

This is not the first film made on an attempted assassination of Adolph Hitler. The Tom Cruise vehicle VALKYRIE immediately comes to mind, though that was supposedly masterminded by other German generals in 1944. But Hirschbiegel’s 13 MINUTES hits closer to home with a protagonist the audience can feel for.

Sadly, the audience learns at the end of the film that Elser was kept in concentration camps for five years and was shot only a few days before American forces liberated Dachau concentration camp (a few weeks before the war ended). Looks like time was never on the side of poor Elser.


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