Sony Pictures Classics acquired North and Latin American distribution rights to Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Nazi-era drama 13 Minutes early on at the Berlin Film Festival. The story of Georg Elser, who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1939, has its official screening out of competition today and was met with high praise from the press corps this morning. This is a return to familiar territory for the Oscar-nominated Downfall director after 2013’s savaged English-language biopic Diana.
A compelling portrait of the resistance fighter, 13 Minutes is not the first time Elser’s story has come to the screen, but it’s a rarity. Klaus Maria Brandauer starred in and directed 1989’s Seven Minutes, which focused more on the building of Elser’s poorly timed bomb. The failed deed was put in motion during a speech given by Hitler for the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. The bomb Elser had placed behind the lectern detonated 13 minutes after the Nazi leader had left the platform — killing eight others. Elser was arrested, interrogated, tortured and eventually sent to Dachau. In 1945, days before the end of the war, he was executed on Hitler’s orders.
Answering questions after the Berlin press screening, Hirschbiegel called 13 Minutes, “a political thriller, a movie about Germany and a love story.” Asked why Elser’s story has been so little recounted, Hirschbiegel said, “Until just recently, we had a distorted image of Elser. The Nazis went to great lengths to project him as a henchman of British and American intelligence agencies – that he was a puppet on the strings.” There had also been rumors, the director said, that the Nazis “had somehow commissioned him to make his attack in order to show that Hitler was somehow protected by providence.”
He compared Elser to Edward Snowden: “Someone without any personal vested interest who resorts to publishing something knowing that by that same token he also ruins his own life. Elser’s action has to be seen even on a higher level because he really risked his life and lost his life in doing this.”
The White Ribbon’s Christian Friedel plays Elser alongside Katharina Schüttler (Generation War) as his companion and Burghart Klaußner (The White Ribbon) as one of the interrogators. The script is by Fred Breinersdorfer, who also penned the Oscar-nominated Sophie Scholl, about the final days of the famous Resistance fighter.
In the film, Elser is portrayed as a seducer who eventually grasps the dangerous changes happening in Germany. Friedel said today, “He is someone who lives a very light life, moving from one woman to the other, enjoying life. And then coming back to his own village and seeing the dark developments and developing this urge to do something.” Elser isolated himself as he hatched his plan. “I spoke to his nephew, who said nobody ever had any inkling as to what he was doing because as a personality he came across as a completely different person,” Freidel added.
Speaking of current unrest in Europe and elsewhere amid a rising right wing undercurrent, Freidel said, “We have an asset, which is our voice. Everyone has to be political and be aware that you need to raise your voice and not turn a blind eye. Elser looked at what was happening and had a clear and discerning gaze.” His comments were met with a raft of applause.
NFP will release 13 Minutes in Germany on April 2, almost exactly 70 years after Elser’s death.