Review: ‘The Goebbels Experiment’

A man whose name has become a byword for pure evil gets a disarming makeover in "The Goebbels Experiment." Far from being the horror show expected from its title, Lutz Hachmeister's cool, almost anti-dramatic docu paints a portrait of an insecure manic-depressive solely through extracts from Joseph Goebbels' own voluminous diaries. Given the thriving new market in WWII and Nazi memorabilia, pubcaster and cable slots look likely.

A man whose name has become a byword for pure evil gets a disarming makeover in “The Goebbels Experiment.” Far from being the horror show expected from its title, Lutz Hachmeister’s cool, almost anti-dramatic docu paints a portrait of an insecure manic-depressive solely through extracts from Joseph Goebbels’ own voluminous diaries. Given the thriving new market in WWII and Nazi memorabilia, pubcaster and cable slots look likely.

A well-chosen selection of pictures and archival footage, plus some modern sequences in color, concisely sketch the history of Germany during the 21 years Goebbels continuously kept a diary (1924-45). From his days at Heidelberg U., Goebbels suffered from bouts of deep depression, and the voice that emerges is of a neat, intensely self-serving little man — the ultimate rational bureaucrat but with political ambitions — who was subject to bouts of whining and periods of rapturous happiness. “First comes the Party, second (devoted wife) Magda,” he once wrote, and as the film makes clear, that pretty much summed up his attitude to anything from dull Bavarians to Hitler or the Jewish “pest.” (Treatment of Jews forms only a tiny part of the docu.)

The Goebbels Experiment

Germany - U.K.

Production

A Spiegel TV, ZDF (Germany)/BBC Storyville (U.K.) presentation of an HMR Prod. production. (International sales: Spiegel TV, Hamburg.) Produced by Guenter van Endert. Directed by Lutz Hachmeister. Screenplay, Michael Kloft, Hachmeister; additional material, Christian Wagner, Mathias von der Heide.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), Hajo Schomerus; editor, Guido Krajewski; music, Hubert Bittman. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Documentary), Feb. 15, 2005. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Narrators: Udo Samel (German version), Kenneth Branagh (English version).

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