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Oliver Hirschbiegel: "The Downfall parodies – I laugh my head off"

Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel goes back to the beginning with his film about the man who was minutes from blowing up Hitler


You directed Downfall, which recorded the end of Hitler’s regime. Your new film 13 Minutes explores its rise. Did telling the end of the story make you interested in its beginning?


I never had the plan of going back into the Third Reich. Now I think it might become a trilogy. I think there is a third film waiting for me to be done, I think it will deal with the victims, but let’s see.

The film tells the story of Georg Elser who almost assassinated Hitler in 1938 but his bomb went off 13 minutes too late. How would those 13 minutes have changed the world?


It is safe to say that if he had succeeded he would have saved at least 45 million lives. It’s a monstrous number. He would have not only killed Hitler but all the heads of the Nazi movement sitting around him. It was only Bormann and Göring who weren’t there that night and they lacked focus and perspective. It’s likely that the Germans would still have attacked France but the bloodshed would have been much less. The Holocaust would certainly not have happened without Hitler, Himmler and Goebels, most definitely not.

Why is Georg Elser not better known?


He is an embarrassing dark spot in German history. He is the only one in 1938 that sees what’s coming – nearly clairvoyant. This man is not an academic, he’s an uneducated boy from the countryside. In my view he was the first ever resistance fighter we had in Germany.

Why was he the only one?


That’s the big riddle. It’s so easy to say from this comfortable position, I wouldn’t have been a part of that, I would have done something. It was important to show how this system that completely controls and subdues any kind of individuality works and takes over. It suffocates, especially in the countryside, which is based on everybody helping each other. The minute you refuse to raise your arm, say I don’t want to have anything to do with this, you are an outsider.

Elser was kept alive for years before being executed a few days before the end of the war. Why?

There were a couple of special prisoners that they kept alive for one sole purpose. After the victory over all the enemies they would do show trials. They kept these prisoners in special buildings in the concentration camps and fed them well and made sure they stayed healthy for the sole reason to have these show trials. It was Hitler’s personal idea to do it that way.

Does Elser have any modern-day equivalents?


For me there is a direct line to somebody like Joan d’Arc, people just believing in something being wrong and having to be addressed and stopped. It’s not political or fanatical, it’s fighting for freedom. Edward Snowden has that. It takes such an incredible character strength. I admire that without end because I know I would not have that strength. It’s a reminder that one single person can make a difference.

Compared to Downfall, Hitler is very much in the periphery of 13 Minutes. Do you always have to be very careful when representing him onscreen?


That’s a tricky one for every director now. Bruno Ganz’s performance as Hitler in Downfall is impeccable. It became a very successful film but people tend to forget that it was a great risk for all of us. I was scared everyday I was shooting. It is a very thin line we were walking.

One scene has been parodied hundreds of times on YouTube…


I could probably stop making films because I’m in film history. There are new ones popping up every month. These clips are hilarious, I laugh my head off.

Is humour a good way of tackling ideologies or does making dangerous people figures of fun mean we are complacent about their threat?


I think that’s one of the great lessons that we can take from the Jews. The only answer is humour. Humour comes from intelligence and where there is intelligence there is curiosity and if you are curious and asking questions there will not be war. Laughing is the best cure to ensure the evil is kept at bay. These videos – just imagine what Hitler would have said – then you know where you stand.

13 Minutes is out now in cinemas

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