“Do I look like a criminal?”
Inspired by the success of Timur Vermes’ 2012 novel, David Wnendt directed the 2015 satirical comedy film Look Who’s Back (German: Er ist wieder da). It’s somewhat reminiscent of Brecht’s play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941), another satirical allegory about Hitler’s rise to power.
Wnendt approaches the story as a social experiment, recording around 300 hours of people’s unscripted reactions to seeing a walking and breathing Hitler, and relying heavily on Oliver Masucci’s performance to get his message across. This transforms the comedy into a mocumentary that exposes the chilling nationalistic views of the general public – much like Larry Charles’ Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006).
In 2014, Hitler (Oliver Masucci) wakes up in the spot, where his wartime bunker used to be. Confused and lost, he wanders around Berlin. When an unemployed director, Fabian Sawatzki (Fabian Busch), spots him by chance, he sees in him a second chance at fame and gory in the television network that has cast him out. The two men travel the country preparing for a TV show.
Fabian finds his morals challenged when his perception of the man changes from that of an incredibly talented impersonator to a real threat. Meanwhile, Hitler takes this opportunity to reach out to the people again, promoting his own agenda to reclaim power. Becoming the new viral sensation, no-one really dares to believe that this new Hitler fanatic is the long-dead dictator in the flesh, not until it’s too late.
Leading star Oliver Masucci is the 120th Adolf Hitler to appear on screen. His commanding presence and bellowing voice perfectly capture the aura of the historical figure. His garishness only adds to the moments of brilliant comedy in the film, including the amusing despair he succumbs to when challenged with settinging up his own email account.
Despite his towering height, which disregards historical accuracy, Masucci’s voice and gestures are convincing, tricking the audience into lowering its defenses as he blends humorous comments with racist banter. This allows him to spin taboo subjects into a string of interesting and uncomfortable speculations on history.
Half way through the film, though, this notion is abandoned for a more dramatic descent into what the film pointedly illustrates as the danger that any power-hungry individual poses when given the support of the media. The revived Hitler easily navigates the world of media with his charm and charisma, catering to the viewers’ xenophobic dreams of eminence, thereby becoming a popular idol – despite the violent outbursts caught on camera. His words remain vague and offensive, creating a sense of unease and numbness, which is only accentuated by the words of support that fall from the interviewers’ lips.
Nonetheless, the unscripted footage that shows the general public responding to Hitler’s wandering around and asking questions has caused a bit of controversy, seeing as the interviewees were only given a moment to respond to Masucci’s baffling questions. The montage hints that most people seem to agree with the character’s far-right thoughts and nationalistic suggestions. And yet, this Boral-like element of Look Who’s Back seems somewhat forced and confusing in Wnendt’s case.
Thus, the satire is quickly turned into a political commentary on the resurgence of right-wing extremism in Europe, Germany included. When the film was being shot, the continent was faced with incoming waves of refugees and immigrants, while the far-right anti-Islamic movement PEDIGA gained followers. Consequently, Look Who’s Back serves as a cautionary tale about the society’s dormant feelings of prejudice and hatred that can easily be stirred by a manipulating voice.
However, the film’s weakness lies in its choppy structure and overdramatic approach, both of which aim to lead the viewer by the hand instead of leaving enough space for personal, and therefore more memorable, conclusions. Still, despite its shortcomings, the film’s potential to cauterize the mind remains perfectly intact.
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