Samson lives. The strongman lifts the Atlas stone
dir-scr Werner Herzog
with Juoko Ahola, Tim Roth, Anna Gourari, Jacob Wein, Udo Kier, Max Raabe, Renate Krossner, Herbert Golder, Gustav Peter Wohler, Gary Bart, Ieva Alekzandrova, Tina Bordhin
release UK 29.Mar.02; US 20.Sep.02
02/Germany 1h13

3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Taking a true story from Eastern Poland, Herzog creates a compelling pre-WWII drama with vivid characters and a warm, moving message. Zishe (Ahola) is the eldest son in a Jewish blacksmith family. Beefy and strong, he's the pride of his brainy little brother (Wein), and when he bests the circus strongman, he's spotted by an agent (Wohler) and whisked off to become a star in 1932 Berlin. Soon he's working in a cabaret show Hanussen's Palace, where the owner (Roth) dabbles in the dark arts, predicts Hitler's rise to power, and hopes to get a job as minister for the occult in the Nazi cabinet. But Zishe isn't happy about hiding his Jewish roots; and he can see the future as well.

There's only one error here: filming in silly-accented English. Sure, it will have a much larger audience globally, but this somehow makes it so much less real, removing us from the story. Even so, the characters are compelling and movingly created, with understated acting and stunningly authentic production design, as well as terrific direction, editing and music. Roth is a magnetic presence--besides the posh British accent (he's supposed to be a Danish aristocrat or something), he gleefully overacts the sinister creep. But the film's heart lies firmly with first-time actor and real-life World's Strongest Man Ahola. As the story progresses, Herzog builds the suspense slowly, making the film feel very long and somewhat stilted. The Nazi threat is somewhat undermined by our knowledge of what was to come, all of which locks the film in the past like a fairy tale. But there are some realistic, scary themes at work here that make it worth a look.
adult themes cert 12 26.Mar.02

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2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall