This is the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young and gifted theologian who was active as a preacher and writer in Germany from the 1920s onward. Following a visit to America in the early 1930s he became increasingly radical in his teachings, concerned with forming a new community dedicated to living according to the teachings of Christ. Despite his initial opposition to violence, Bonhoeffer came to see it as his duty as a Christian to oppose the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and during the Second World War was arrested and executed for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Having previously known nothing of the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I learnt a good deal from this sober video documentary, pieced together from 'talking-head' interviews, still photos and archival footage. Technically conventional as it is, it's also intelligent and lacking in tabloid gimmicks, aimed at a primary audience of Christians rather than Nazi buffs.
Bonhoeffer was clearly a gifted man, but it's hard for non-initiated viewers to judge his real significance - was he a truly original thinker, or simply a martyr who helped redeem the honour of the Church during the darkest period of human history? Still, while the standardised format doesn't allow much in-depth exploration of Bonhoeffer's theological notions, we're given enough extracts from his writings (published and unpublished) to get a sense of how his commitment to putting Christian ideals into practice led him to an early, if circumspect, opposition to Hitler.
The whole story has great dramatic potential, though the contradictions are only lightly sketched in: how did Bonhoeffer reconcile his involvement in assassination plots with his previous leaning towards non-violent resistance (manifested in an abortive plan to study with Gandhi)? Did he see the Nazi exaltation of the state as a ghastly parody of his own concern with 'community'? Was he right to return from the United States to Germany in the late 1930s, or was his death ultimately needless, even brought about by a desire to sacrifice himself? Beyond the outlines of his career, the man himself remains in the shadows: his photographed face and quoted words about 'dying for Christ' shed little light on the reality of his inner struggle.
Ironically, the film brings us closer to Hitler, all too vividly 'present' as he screams himself hoarse in one clip after another, than to this stocky, spectacled, balding young man, whose reported charm and good humour are far less evident in direct images than in the still-warm affection of his friends.
Email this article
CAST: Documentary with Eberhard Bethge, Maria Brandauer, John De Gruchy, Geffrey Kelly, Richard Mancini, Adele Schmidt, Desmond Tutu, Ruth Alice von Bismarck and Martin Doblmeier as the narrator.
PRODUCER: Martin Doblmeier
DIRECTOR: Martin Doblmeier
SCRIPT: Martin Doblmeier
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dennis Boni, Dave Goulding, Jörg Plica, Peter V. Schultz
EDITOR: Tim Finkbiner, Matthew B. Kelly
MUSIC: John D. Keltonic
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Ronin
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Brisbane: September 14, 2003; Sydney: September 25, 2003; other states to follow.