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A Hitler mockumentary has touched a nerve in Germany

In the bestselling what-if novel published three years ago, Hitler is baffled to find himself in a multicultural Germany led by a woman, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Source: Moviepilot Trailer/YouTube

IMAGINE HITLER WAKES up in today’s Berlin, is mistaken for a hilarious impersonator of the Nazi leader and ends up a TV celebrity, widely cheered for voicing his demented worldview.

That’s the premise of He’s Back (Er Ist Wieder Da), a biting social satire by author Timur Vermes, the film version of which premiered in German cinemas this week.

In the bestselling what-if novel published three years ago, Hitler is baffled to find himself in a multicultural Germany led by a woman, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He discovers TV chefs, Wikipedia and the fact that Poland still exists before he ends up a small-screen star, in a social commentary on society, mass media and celebrity hype.

Borat

The film, however, goes a step further and sprinkles the story with documentary-style scenes — in the style of Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 comedy Borat — giving the screen version a more disturbing twist.

In the real-life scenes, lead actor Oliver Masucci — replete with Hitler moustache and uniform — is seen getting rousing receptions from ordinary people, many of whom pose for “selfies” with him.

Tourists and football fans cheer the fake Hitler at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, in a Bavarian village and elsewhere, and elderly people pour their hearts out to him, often voicing extremist views.

“Yes, bring back labour camps,” says one citizen to the dictator.

Source: Moviepilot Trailer/YouTube

Such scenes have touched a raw nerve in Germany which, amid a record influx of refugees, has also suffered an upsurge in xenophobic protests and attacks against asylum-seekers.

“There is a smouldering anger among the people, like in the 1930s,” says the Hitler character, with visible satisfaction.

Masucci, best known as a stage actor, told Bild daily about his mixed feelings while shooting the unscripted scenes with people on the street.

“During shooting, I realised: I didn’t really have to perform — people felt a need to talk, they wanted to pour their hearts out to a fatherly Hitler who was listening to them,” he said.

I found it disturbing how quickly I could win people over. I mean, they were talking to Hitler.

Hitler in the film also meets members of the populist-nationalist Alternative for Germany party and the neo-Nazi NPD, while the final scenes show news footage of far-right mobs and a rally by the PEGIDA movement, short for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”.

The release of the movie has touched off broad debate in a country where guilt over World War II and the Holocaust continues to influence political debate.

“A fake Hitler, a small moustache clearly helped people lose their inhibitions and… allowed insights into Germany’s dark side,” found the daily Berliner Morgenpost.

After all, it said, Hitler, in a figurative sense, “never really left”.

The far-right ideology smoulders to this day and has found new forums… in the form of the Alternative for Germany and the PEGIDA movement.

- © AFP, 2015

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