Political Film Society - Max

PFS Film Review


Max, directed by Menno Meyjes, is ostensibly about German art critic and dealer Max Rothman, but more importantly is a biopic of Adolf Hitler in the years 1917-1919. The film purports to show a critical turning point in the life of Hitler--and of the world. When the film begins, titles tell us that 100,000 Jews were drafted into the German army, and another 40,000 volunteered. Germany sued for peace after a disastrous defeat in the Battle Yprès of 1917, but the terms of the Treaty of Versailles shocked the nation. Germany had to cede land to France and Poland and pay an amount of reparations which, according to one character in the film, exceeded all the assets in the country. Germany, in short, was humiliated, and the German people looked for an answer to their plight. Both Rothman (played by John Cusack) and Hitler (played by Noah Taylor) fought in the Battle of Yprès, though in different parts of the front. Whereas Rothman came back without an arm, his rich family provided comfort for him and a start as an art dealer. Hitler, however, came from a poor family, so he stayed in the army so that he could have room and board. One evening Hitler is employed to deliver a case of champagne to one of Rothman's art exhibitions; he also brings along some of his sketches to show the famous art dealer. Although Rothman is not impressed with Hitler's old-fashioned style, he encourages him to bring more at another time for an evaluation. Hitler returns, Rothman praises his talent but encourages him to produce modern art. The film then contrasts the high social life of Rothman with Hitler's anti-Semitic army buddies, a disparity that Hitler observes in time as Rothman takes him under his wing. We also learn that Hitler was allergic to tobacco and was Puritanical about women. Rothman also listens to Hitler's pro-German speeches, noting that the poor artist has an intellectual comprehension of modern German philosophy, and he even tolerates Hitler's anti-Semitism. Toward the end of the film, Rothman discovers in Hitler's art studio powerful drawings of crowds, men in uniform with what were later called Nazi symbols, buildings with a neoclassical architectural style, and a sketch of a superhighway. Rothman, profoundly impressed by the sketches, asks Hitler to bring them to the Metropole Café the following evening in preparation for an exhibition. Before the scheduled appointment, Hitler had been asked to be a speaker at a meeting of the National Socialist Party, filling in for someone who was unable to do so. Hitler's anti-Semitic speech so arouses the audience that some of those leaving the auditorium see Rothman walking toward the Metropole, beat him up, and he is left semiconscious in the snow. Hitler, in response to Rothman's no-show, leaves the Metropole, and presumably the rest is history. Max purports to answer why Hitler rose from obscurity to prominence in a Germany looking for an alternative to the Versailles capitulation. However, no such budding art career existed, and Hitler never met Rothman. Max humanizes Hitler, a most unusual theme for a film that merits nominations from the Political Film Society as a commentary on the need for greater democracy and as an exposé on the early years of Hitler. For art students, the film is valuable as a commentary on how a person early in an art career can be inspired to greatness--by channeling deep emotions onto a canvass. MH

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