GEBÜRTIG(director/writer: Lukas Stepanik/Robert Schindel; screenwriter: Georg Stefan Troller/from the novel by Robert Schindel; cinematographer: Edward Klosinski; editor: Hubert Canaval; music: Peter Ponger; cast: Daniel Olbrychski (Konrad Sachs), Ruth Rieser (Susanne Ressel), Peter Simonischek (Hermann Gebirtig), August Zirner (Danny Demant), Katja Weitzenböck (Crissie Kalteisen), Samuel Fintzi (Emanuel Katz), Peter Matic (David Lebensart), Ernst Stankovski (Karl Ressel), Edd Stavjanik (Rudolf Pointner); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Niki List; Lifesize Entertainment; 2002-Austria-in German (with some English and Yiddish) with English subtitles)
“The film makes the point that the average German still doesn’t get what the Jew went through in the Holocaust.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Gebürtig is a Holocaust drama set in Vienna, “the city of forgetting and remembering.” Vienna was once the hotbed of anti-Semitism and its haunting past catches up with the main characters, who can’t face those bad memories again but must out of a sense of justice and getting on with their new lives. It’s much like most Holocaust films, heavy-handed and tough to watch but with a message worth delivering. The film makes the point that the average German still doesn’t get what the Jew went through in the Holocaust. It is directed by Lukas Stepanik and Robert Schindel, based on the novel by Mr. Schindel.
It tells the tale of elderly Jewish emigrant composer Hermann Gerbürtig (Peter Simonischek) and the German journalist Konrad Sachs (Daniel Olbrychski), both have adjusted from the Holocaust by choosing to ignore how much it hurt them. Konrad is a successful correspondent for a Hamburg newspaper, who has kept hidden that he was the son of a murderous high-ranking SS doctor father. Hermann lives in New York City, where he became an internationally famous pop composer. He vows to never return to his native Vienna, where his parents died in the camps and he was imprisoned in Ebensee.
The past catches up with the two men when the gentile Susanne Ressel (Ruth Rieser) and her Austrian father Karl (Ernst Stankovski), once imprisoned in Ebensee for his Communist politics, go on a hike together to the Rax and recognize former SS Sergeant Rudolf Pointner (Edd Stavjanik). He was known as the Skull Cracker and Karl wishes to bring the vicious war criminal to trial but dies of a heart attack. The only other live witness from that camp was Hermann, but he refuses to return to a city he still despises and fears. Konrad befriends Susanne and helps her secure a flight to NYC to convince Hermann to testify. The two fall in love and seem meant for each other, despite their wide age difference. Susanne’s marriage to womanizing Jewish actor and cabaret singer Danny Demant (August Zirner) comes to an end over his affair with the blonde Aryan beauty Crissie Kalteisen (Katja Weitzenböck), while Hermann has led a loveless life sleeping with many different Jewish women whose parents were killed in the camps.
The film’s main problem was that the storyline was so muddled with flashbacks and the character study of too many characters was so awkwardly drawn, as it tried to lump everyone into the same kind of guilt-trip about the past. As a result, all the characters seemed more like cardboard figures than real. This bleak film about those trying to forget what can’t be forgotten, ultimately makes the belabored point that things are changing mostly because the old Nazis are dying off. It doesn’t have anything to say about the Holocaust to make me remember it for itself, nor does it have the same impact as Polanski’s The Pianist.
REVIEWED ON 9/18/2004 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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