Review: ‘Beruf: Neo Nazi’

The cause of considerable ruckus since it first screened in Germany late last year, "Profession: Neo-Nazi" takes a cold, hard look at spotlight-seeking young fascist agitator Ewald Althans. Director Winfried Bonengel's purported failure to take an explicitly disapproving stance is a matter open to debate, and despite a relatively routine documaking approach, the gravity of his subject should command attention in public TV airings. Thorny item has been banned in several German cities and states.

The cause of considerable ruckus since it first screened in Germany late last year, “Profession: Neo-Nazi” takes a cold, hard look at spotlight-seeking young fascist agitator Ewald Althans. Director Winfried Bonengel’s purported failure to take an explicitly disapproving stance is a matter open to debate, and despite a relatively routine documaking approach, the gravity of his subject should command attention in public TV airings. Thorny item has been banned in several German cities and states.

The 27-year-old Althans’ political activity is matter-of-factly tracked, from duties as German liaison with a pamphleteering Holocaust revisionist in Canadian exile to networking with reps from like-minded Euro groups to cross-country recruitment tours. Nuts-and-bolts aspects of the movement’s operations and economic base are well covered. Curiously, the propagandizing efforts duplicate methods pioneered by the Ayatollah Khomeini to override the Iranian government’s boycott.

Bonengel avoids overt shock tactics, showing few violent demonstrations or blanket racial slurs. Instead, he lets Althans and his cronies expound on their projects for insurrection and endorse Hitler’s aims with chilling composure.

Coverage of German government intervention or an official position on fascism’s resurgence is missing; it’s unclear whether this omission reflects government inaction concerning extremist politicking.

In perhaps pic’s most disturbing seg (also its most talked-about), the camera follows Althans to Auschwitz, where he challenges visiting U.S. Jews to disprove his death-camp denial theories. Walking in the grounds later, he casually makes extermination jokes while swatting flies.

Though Bonengel capably places Althans in an unflattering light, he does so by unwaveringly subtle means, and anti-fascist aversion to the docu in Germany undoubtedly stems from its dearth of clearly defined negative reactions to its subject. Concern over its circulation seems unjustifiable but not surprising given that failure to read between the lines could lead to certain sections being misconstrued as uninterrupted Nazi rhetoric.

Arguably the most pointed indication of Bonengel’s position is pic’s title. The overall assessment of Althans is one of an exhibitionistic opportunist, cashing in on Aryan good looks and oratory skill more for personal glory than political conviction. Final shot of him washing his hands after a youth rally seems in line with this view. Similarly, interviews with his parents, who are ideologically opposed to Althans’ politics, reveal a history of extreme behavior , but their vague detachment appears to discredit the depth of their son’s involvement.

In addition, following showings at the Rotterdam fest (as part of the FilmFree program fighting screen censorship), reports in Dutch newspapers linked Althans to the Amsterdam gay scene. That could cast doubts over his continuing rise within the rabidly anti-homosexual neo-Nazi movement.

Beruf: Neo Nazi

Production

An OST-Film/Hoffmann & Loeser production. Produced by Andrea Hoffmann. Directed, written by Winfried Bonengel.

Crew

Camera (color), Johann Feindt; editor, Wolfram Kohler; sound, Paul Oberle, Ronald Gohlke. Reviewed at Rotterdam Intl. Film Festival, Feb. 3, 1994. Running time: 83 MIN.

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