Shaking the earth from his greatcoat and pulling his cap down over his eyes, Adolf Hitler stands up and looks at what has become of the site of his Berlin bunker. He sees the grim concrete blocks of postwar reconstruction and the kids playing football, one in a Ronaldo 7 shirt. He ponders his fate, but not for long, secure that his convictions about Germany and politics and believing that his brand of agitprop is universally applicable.
Oliver Massuci is devastating as Hitler. A montage early on reminds us of how the Führer has been played by others, but Massuci carves out an interpretation all his own, from his historically inaccurate height to his charismatic wit (both conscious and unconscious). Sometimes he makes people laugh the nervous laugh of those who aren’t sure if violence is just a step away; sometimes he makes people laugh because he’s funny; and sometimes, critically, he stops people laughing at all. This is the power of Nuremberg brought down to a human level, but just as dangerous.
This Hitler recoils from the excesses of 20th century television, so when he finds a home as an Ali G figure on a struggling commercial channel, he foregoes the demagoguery and peddles his message of hate through a polite, even charming, insistence. In these moments and in the scenes on public streets and in meetings, and, brilliantly, on teenagers’ YouTube channels, the satire really bites down hard. In this Hitler’s appeal to the self-defined disenfranchised, the inchoately angry, the Little Man of Wilhelm Reich’s imagination, we see not the bogeyman of the past, but a thoroughly 21st century operator. In his scapegoating of The Other, we see fascism’s divide and rule philosophy, but we also see the popular Press of today cheerleading for morally bankrupt politicians.
Filmed in eye-bleeding HD, though David Wnendt’s camera also carries echoes of Leni Riefenstahl’s cinematography in Triumph of the Will, we’re never in any doubt that Hitler’s ideology is establishing a home in the 21st century. If that’s the engine of the plot, less successful is a rather pedestrian subplot concerning a failing documentary filmmaker working on a failing TV station (but it does, at least, allow everyone to enjoy a drop dead perfect Downfall parody which the cast got through, somehow, without corpsing).
If you do keep catching yourself wondering “Didn’t that happen in Borat?”, it doesn’t matter. Because, though this black comedy is often very funny, this film is about a chillingly realised, horribly credible resurrection of a uniquely evil man, but one whose narrative of evil is gaining ground every day. Just look at the papers in Britain and the television in the USA: Look Who’s Back could easily be titled Look What’s Back.