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:: Bonhoeffer

I had never heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer before seeing this documentary about his life. He was on of the few voices in the church in Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s who spoke out against Nazism, war and the annihilation of the Jews and eventually was executed for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

A pastor who speaks out against his church, a pacifist who plans murder, Bonhoeffer was a brave and interesting man. Unfortunately, this is neither a brave nor interesting documentary. Archival footage of Germany intercut with still photographs of Bonhoeffer and his family and several ‘talking heads’ including, with no explanation, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, certainly break no new ground in documentary style, but moving films have been made from less.

The narration plods through Bonhoeffer’s early years and then speeds through the most interesting parts, the conspiracy in particular. Perhaps there was not much information available about this time. However, it felt as though more research could have been done. Director, Martin Doblmeier, seems more interested in talking about what Christianity is, what Bonhoeffer wanted it to be, and giving time to people theorising on the difference between ‘anti Judaism’ and ‘anti Semitism’. For the most part it was a documentary about a theologian, not much about his struggle with the Nazi’s at all. Even the interviews with people, who were Bonhoeffer’s contemporaries, were lifeless. The whole exercise felt like another example of all those people who claimed to be in the French resistance after the war, so many that it seems there was no one who wasn’t, despite all those images of crowds cheering for Hitler as he spouts his lunacy. Everyone wants to say how much he or she was against Hitler, though they seemed not to actually do anything. Did they not know any Jews personally? If they felt so strongly about it, they could have saved lives by hiding them; getting them out the same way that Bonhoeffer travelled all over the world. Theological arguments in the safety of a seminary were not enough to save anybody.

There is no emotional engagement, with either Bonhoeffer or the events he finds himself embroiled in and as a result his death is not a moving one, merely another sad casualty among the millions in that time. I am certain that there is a fascinating film to be made about Bonhoeffer and it perhaps it will need to be a fictionalised one, for this documentary certainly does not deliver.

Screening at Cinema Nova