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Conversation with the Beast

Adolf Hitler/Andreas Kronstad Armin Mueller-Stahl Hortense Katharina Bohm Arnold Webster Bob Balaban

Adolf Hitler/Andreas Kronstad Armin Mueller-Stahl Hortense Katharina Bohm Arnold Webster Bob Balaban

With: Dietmar Mues, Hark Bohm (German and English dialogue)

German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl makes his debut as director with this modest and very strange film. Relying entirely on dialogue, pic will probably look better on small screens. Outside fest exposure, theatrical chances are slim, but Eurotube nets should go for this oddity.

With its confined settings (old Berlin apartment, hotel room), the film has a claustrophobic feel as it attempts to answer the question, “What do you do if the Devil invites you to tea?” Bob Balaban plays a U.S. historian who stumbles on amazing evidence that Adolf Hitler (Mueller-Stahl) is alive, well (though confined to a wheelchair), 103 years old and living, under an alias, in a Berlin apartment with his incredibly young-looking wife, Hortense (Katharina Bohm).

Over 10 days, the American quizzes the man who brought wholesale destruction to the world, but for much of the time remains uncertain whether this is, indeed , the real Hitler or an impostor.

Hitler’s apartment is filled with Nazi artifacts and photographs of himself when he was Germany’s Fuhrer. He talks constantly to the bemused academic, explaining that he lost the war “because of women — that’s why I hate them” and that “I love it when people are afraid.” Despite these attitudes, Hortense, who looks 40 years younger than she is, humors her husband and accepts his often outrageous remarks with tolerance.

Black-and-white flashbacks of the postwar era depict Hitler meeting Hortense and dealing with several doubles who stood in for him. He also recounts how he sought to play himself in an American film about his life, but was turned down because he wasn’t right for the role.

The tone of this gabfest veers uncertainly between political satire and camp comedy, but there are few revelations and seemingly little point to the exercise. This “Beast” is an original idea that has been too tentatively developed.

Mueller-Stahl seems to be having fun with his impersonation of one of this century’s most notorious figures, and gives a bravura performance. His work as a director is far less assured. Bohm is a delight as the down-to-earth Hortense , while Bala-ban amuses as the bewildered professor. All production credits are fine.

Conversation with the Beast

(GERMAN)

Production: A Rudolf Steiner TV-Film production. Produced by Rudolf Steiner. Executive producer, Gert Golde. Directed, written by Armin Mueller-Stahl.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Gerard Vandenberg; editor, Ingo Ehrlich; music, Klaus-Peter Beyer; production design, Rainer Schaper, Heinz Roske; sound, Christfried Sobczyk. Reviewed at Toron to Film Festival, Sept. 12, 1996. Running time: 96 MIN.

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