World domination

Director's details make The Gleiwitz Case a clever story

A priceless entry in the Goethe Institut's continuing "Germany's Other Cinema" series of films from East Germany, The Gleiwitz Case (Der Fall Gleiwitz) is an eccentric reenactment of an event from the history.

The Gleiwitz Case suggests a more starched, controlled Dr. Strangelove crossed with the formal austerity of Triumph of the Will, and it's tone falls just short of loco. The film, often discussed in terms of its modernist, self-reflexive style, recalls the work of French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and seems to share not only the filmmaker's politically informed agenda but some of his nuttier impulses.

The film's title derives from a nefarious (and what other Nazi schemes are there, after all?) plan orchestrated by the Germans in 1939 to give the appearance of a Polish raid on the Gleiwitz Reich radio station on the German border. The "raid" was, in reality, staged by Germans posing as Poles to offer an excuse for an invasion of Poland and the start of World War II.

A scene of the plot's chief executor, Alfred Naujocks (Hannjo Hasse), very decorously "destroying" the Gleiwitz station to give the appearance of a struggle encapsulates the film's overarchingly weird vision. Using his rifle to topple a chair and gingerly push a vase full of posies off a table, Naujocks looks less like a deranged Nazi beast and more like a Sunday painter striving for that "just so" smear of paint as he creatively "un-decorates."

Director Gerhard Klein's send-up of Nazi control-freaks is never more amusing as when Naujocks and his henchmen drink a toast to world domination and each raises his bottle of beer in perfect tandem, like a line of showgirls doing a chorus line kick in unison.

Klein trained as a documentary filmmaker, but historical verité often pales next to the crackerjack, experimental style of a film that advantageously uses low-angle shots, woozy overhead camerawork, a crazed musical score (sampling oompah music, calliopes, Hawaiian ukulele music) and a generally hyperstylized film technique that at times recalls the stilted, heroic compositions of Soviet propaganda posters and the tongue-in-cheek bravura of Citizen Kane.

The Gleiwitz Case, made in 1961, has a bracingly contemporary feel with its postmodern send-up of the film techniques of the past and its glamour-infused, over-the-top opalescence reminiscent of Josef von Sternberg's style-heavy films. When Naujocks travels on a train rocketing toward Poland, the Germans onboard (captured in romantically fuzzy lenswork) carry on with the cockiness of self-perceived world conquerors, singing, hoisting beers, their bosoms heaving with the rousing thrill-of-it-all.

Typifying the film's feverish, ultradramatic way, Naujocks chimes to his assembled Nazi brethren, "We'll make mincemeat of the adversary!" Naujocks is matinee-idol handsome, a primo Aryan stud, save for one detail — a scar streaking like the Rhine, right between his eyes. As telling as Charlie Manson's signature forehead swastika, that scar proves Klein is aware that when it comes to clever storytelling, it's all in the details. It's not in the build toward the execution of this Gleiwitz plan that this grippingly imaginative film gets you, but in the singular way Klein has for such surreal, strangely inspired touches.??