Look Who’s Back, It’s funny, it’s entertaining and it has an important message.
It’s a name that’s universally synonymous with mass murder and devastation and not one typically associated with humour, especially not in a country where the very name Adolf Hitler is still considered taboo, yet the book and film, Look Who’s Back has taken Hitler and made him into a fascinating source of humour with a very sobering message.
As a recent temporary transplant to Berlin I came across an interesting book cover while browsing the few English books at a local bookstore. The cover caught my eye featuring a stylized version of Hitler’s moustache. As it turned out the book, called Er ist wieder da, in German, by former journalist Timur Vermes, had been translated to English after its somewhat surprising success in Germany.
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It became a surprise hit in the country after selling some 2 million copies and was followed up by a film in 2015. The premise of the book- Hitler isn’t dead after all. He wakes up in 2014 and has to deal with the shock of an entirely different Germany, one he would never have envisioned.
The premise was just too interesting to pass up and before I could even crack the second chapter I ended up watching the film version based on the book and I’m glad I did.
Watching the film under the night sky at the FreiluftKino Kreuzburg in Berlin, the plastic deck chairs were pretty much filled to capacity, despite the fact the film had been out for some time already.
The film opened with Hitler getting an etiquette lesson that caused the first few ripples of laughter in the crowd as he tries to understand why people won’t, at the very least address him as the führer.
What ensued through the rest of the film was a mix of Ali G mockumentary style film making and sometimes cringe worthy jokes, that taken separately might be misconstrued as insensitive, and wildly politically incorrect, but taken together worked as great entertainment with a strong message.
Hitler, played disturbingly, and expertly, by actor Oliver Masucci, finds himself a huge success in a 2014 German world of social media and Youtube. He’s branded a comedian as nobody can possibly believe that he is actually Adolf Hitler and he quickly becomes a sensation.
The viewer is taken on a cross country journey with Hitler as he tries to rebuild his political career. He and a cameraman head out to talk to the everyday people.
He quickly adapts to his new surroundings after a rather hilarious trip to the drycleaners to get his military uniform cleaned.
This is where the mockumentary filmmaking comes in. Surprisingly there were no shortage of ordinary people who seemed ready and willing to let their views be known on the current state of the country, sharing their thoughts on everything from the refugees flocking to Germany to the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
We soon discover that Hitler himself has decided that in 2014 his support won’t be with the NPD party espousing German Nationalism, which was the successor to the German Reich party he led. The party is largely seen as the German Neo-Nazi party but when Hitler visits the leader of the he rather ironically lambasts this century’s leadership and the party itself. Instead Hitler announces that he supports the Green Party, which he thinks is doing what it can to create a sustainable Germany, but he quickly adds that the Green Party’s stance on nuclear energy is of course ludicrous.
For all the laughs the film generated, you could almost hear a pin drop by the end. The humour slowly gave way to a very real and very important message. The final few minutes were laid on the audience with a slap.
Hitler is riding in a car through the streets of Germany reflecting on the discontent he’s heard from German’s on his cross country tour and the audience hears his inner monologue that simply ends with the words, “I can work with this.”
Those last few words are clearly meant to make the audience think and it did. There was quiet reflection and no laughter as the audience packed up their chairs and left for the night.
That ending was the culmination of what was a well crafted comment on the times and the human propensity to look for scapegoats for what they see as the problems in their world.
It’s something that holds particular relevance in today’s world because we are now decades removed from Hitler’s own time and the events of the Holocaust and Second World War, yet there are familiar themes of discontent rising not just in Germany but in other countries like the United States which is now in the midst of a divisive presidential campaign with a candidate nobody ever suspected would make it this far, and who is seizing on prejudices and outright racism as a tool to get voters out to the polls in November.
The times we live in make this book and film important. Both expertly take a topic as unpalatable as Hitler and make it entertainingly readable and watchable. It’s refreshing that the author and director of the film took their humorous artistic license and used it for a real purpose, to remind their audience how easily hatred and prejudice can sneak up on society till its engulfed by it.
The film is currently available on Netflix in Canada and the United States. The book is also currently available in English on sites like Amazon and Indigo.ca