Political Film Society - Newsletter #145 - October 1, 2002

October 1, 2002


InvincibleDirected by Werner Herzog, Invincible is a slow-moving biopic focusing on the last year in the life of Ziche Breithart (played by Jouka Ahola), a Jewish man so strong that he was called a modern-day Samson. The film begins in Eastern Poland during early 1932. Ziche and his young brother Benjamin (played by Jacob Wein) go to a restaurant. Because of Ziche's enormous size, Polish customers taunt him for being a fat Jew until he erupts with anger and damages the restaurant. Although he wants to pay for the damages, he is only a blacksmith and has insufficient money, but the restaurant owner suggests that he could make a lot of money by successfully challenging the Hercules of a circus that happens to be in town. Not only does he defeat Hercules, who for twenty years was undefeated, but he also attracts the attention of a talent scout (played by Ben-Tzion Hershberg) from Berlin. On realizing that God must have given him incredible strength for a reason, Ziche accepts the talent scout's invitation to earn money in Berlin. The job is to perform feats at the Occult Palace, a cabaret theater run by Hanussen (played by Tim Roth), who pretends to have extraordinary mental powers. To appear Aryan, Hanussen insists that Ziche must wear a blond wig and change his name to Siegfried. Hanussen is a devout supporter of the Nazi Party, which in turn favors the Palace with lucrative patronage. To the delight of audiences, Ziche performs various feats of strength on stage; off stage, he befriends Hanussen's mistress Marta Farra (played by Anna Gourari), who is also a performer. One day Ziche's mother and brother Benjamin arrive in Berlin; tears run down Benjamin's cheeks on seeing his Aryanized brother. During his performance that evening, Ziche takes off the wig, declaring that he is Jewish and proud. Although the Nazis are displeased, the Jews of Berlin then line up for blocks to gain seats in the audience until a night when Nazis show up to rough up the Jewish patrons. Later, on a Sunday afternoon, Marta invites Ziche to join her on a boat cruise along with Hanussen as well as various Nazis and their girlfriends. When Hanussen slaps her, Ziche intervenes and defames Hanussen as a fraud. Hanussen then sues for slander, a trial in which his Jewish identity is revealed. Shortly thereafter, Ziche apologizes that he did not know about the secret of his Jewish background, but Hanussen is arrested. Ziche then returns in December 1932 to his hometown, urging fellow Jews to get strong because of the coming Nazi threat. On one occasion, he is challenged to place a long rusty nail into a board with his bare hands. When he does so, the nail penetrates his kneecap, causing a wound and illness so serious that Ziche undergoes eleven unsuccessful amputation operations, but he dies in March 1933, just two days before Hitler became chancellor. Credits at the end indicate that Ziche Breithart remains a legend. MH

The Four FeathersTitles at the beginning of The Four Feathers tell us that in 1884 the British Empire extended over one-fourth of the globe, that young British men were expected to fight for their country, and that a white feather was a symbol of cowardice. The film's director, Shekhar Kapur, may have enjoyed portraying British arrogance and racism, but the screenplay is the sixth film version of the century-old novel of the same title by A.E.W. Mason. When the film begins, a love triangle quickly emerges, with Jack Dorrance (played by Wes Bentley) obviously disappointed when the engagement of Harry Febersham (played by Heath Ledger) to Ethne (played by Kate Hudson) is announced. Harry and Jack are members of the Royal Cumbrian Regiment, a reserve unit that can be called to duty at any time. No sooner is the engagement announced than the order comes down that the regiment is to ship out to the Sudan, where the Mahdi is threatening to overwhelm British interests in the Middle East. Those who have seen Khartoum (1966) will be already familiar with the threat, in which a Moslem leader in the Sudan declares a jihad against British imperialism that had the potential for uniting the entire Moslem or at least Arab world, but The Four Feathers spares filmviewers of the megalomaniacal motivations of the Moslems. Harry, however, questions the need for such an adventure, and he insists on resigning his commission. His buddies in the regiment then send him a box containing four white feathers with three namecards; Jack's namecard is absent. Who placed the fourth feather in the box? Ethne, meanwhile, is unhappy about his decision, knowing that marriage to a coward will bring ostracism to the couple. Harry takes steps to reenlist by approach his father, a military hero, but the latter disowns him. Harry then decides to go to the Sudan himself, hoping to join the regiment in some sort of unofficial capacity. However, to make the trip from Khartoum, he pays a merchant who is delivering slaves, male and female, along the way, to take him to his destination, but the merchant exacts one condition--that Harry must dress like a nomadic Arab. Later, when the merchant is attacked by bandits and killed, Harry nearly dies as well, but he is saved by Abou Fatma (played by Djimon Hounsou), one of the slaves. The two then trek across the vast desert together. While Harry tries to infiltrate the Mahdi's army, he sends Abou to warn his regiment, but instead the commander treats him as a spy and flogs him. During the battle Abou is set free, but soon the entire regiment is overwhelmed, most are taken prisoner, and the prisoners are buried in a pit that could be called The Killing Sands. Jack, though blinded in the battle, escapes with the help of Harry, who does not identify himself to Jack. When Jack returns to England, there is no word from Harry, who is presumed dead. Jack then marries Ethne. Harry, after escaping from the killing sands, returns to England, and a scene with Victorian unrequited love is inevitable. As an epic, The Four Feathers is full of action, drama, with a love story to boot, but Americans will probably miss the point that any invasion of an Arab country by non-Arabs is bound to lead to disaster. The novel has doubtless been read many times in Baghdad. MH