It's not quite The Great Dictator, nor Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be (nor even Mel Brooks's remake of it). But for audacity and good intentions at least, Dani Levy's Hitler comedy Mein Fuhrer belongs in a more honourable tradition than its buffoonish tone immediately suggests. Despite some hostile reviews, Levy's film has already been hugely successful in Germany and Austria since its release in January; at the very least, it represents a bold attempt to confront taboo by making Hitler a comic figure in German cinema for the first time.

An uneasy blend of broad farce and darker black-comic intent will make the film a tough export, though news value and the international success of Hitler drama Downfall should make it more marketable than the Hitler diaries farce Schtonk!, which failed to ignite worldwide in 1992.

Set in the twilight of the Third Reich, in the winter of 44-45, the story follows Jewish actor Adolf Gruenbaum (Muhe), pulled out of his concentration camp by Joseph Goebbels (Groth), who enlists him to coach a demoralised Hitler for a morale-giving speech to Berlin crowds.

Gruenbaum goes along with the job, realising it will enable him to save his family from the camps. The confused and depressed Hitler is not an easy pupil, but starts spilling his soul to Gruenbaum after the actor uses theatrical techniques to put the Fuhrer in touch with his inner child.

Much of the film is in a strictly farcical register, with Hitler on his knees
barking like a dog, or floored by a single tentative punch from Gruenbaum. And much of the Nazi comedy is in a familiar pantomime mode: endless rounds of siegheiling and unpronounceable military ranks.

But the film's darker black-comic thrust emerges in the scenes between Hitler and Gruenbaum, which lay bare the damaged infantile psyche within Hitler and, by extension, Nazi Germany itself. The film's tone is considerably lifted by Mühe's finely-modulated, dignified performance, which offsets the cartoonish, puppet-like Hitler played by popular comic Helge Schneider, who's game but no Bruno Ganz.

Even though the film never quite hits its stride, it's an intriguing, part-successul provocation, and whether or not one approves of using the Holocaust in a comic context, Levy, himself Jewish, has at least steered well clear of thesentimentality piety of Roberto Benign's Holocaust comedy Life is Beautiful.

An end-credits vox-pop about Hitler with modern-day Berliners shows that the film's topic is far from a closed book.

Production companies/backers
X Verleih
Y Filme Directors Pool
X Filme Creative Pool

German distribution
Warner Bros

International sales
Beta Cinema

Stefan Arndt

Dani Levy

Carl-F Koschnick
Carsten Thiele

Peter R. Adam

Production design
Christian Eisele

Niki Reiser

Main cast
Helge Schneider
Ulrich Mühe
Sylvester Groth
Adriana Altaras