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That wacky old Führer

OUT NOW! The film adaptation of the best-selling novel ER IST WIEDER DA (Look Who's Back) uses a time-travelling Hitler to poke fun at real, live Germans, but its one-joke premise gets old, fast.

There’s a brief part in Timur Vermes’ best-seller Er ist wieder da (Look Who’s Back) where Adolf Hitler, having mysteriously arrived in present-day Berlin and been mistaken for a Borat-style always-in-character comedian, conducts ‘man-on-the-street’ interviews with average Berliners, inadvertently exposing their true prejudices and amassing millions of views on Youtube.

The premise (and promise of going viral) was apparently so irresistible to director David Wnendt that he spends a huge segment of his film adaptation trying to replicate it IRL, sending Oliver Masucci-as-Hitler and Fabian Busch as naïve cameraman Fabian Sawatzki all around Germany to interact with hapless, real-life Germans, from NPD demonstrators to animal breeders. What happens? Basically what you’d expect: startled glances, giggles, a few disparaging comments about Ausländer, and selfies. Lots and lots of selfies.

It’s all much less clever than it wants to be. The same goes for the rest of the film, which roughly follows the plot of the book but adds in an unnecessary series of meta twists and a mercilessly bleak character arc for Sawatzki, who in the absence of the book’s first-person Hitler narration becomes the film’s everyman protagonist. The actors are all game – especially relative unknown Masucci, whose Führer tows the line between buffoonish and menacing; Katja Riemann as the Riefenstahl-esque CEO who propels “Adolf Hitler” to worldwide television fame; and Christoph Maria Herbst as her cartoonish underling (who, perhaps in a nod to having narrated the audio version of the original novel, gets in a mildly amusing Downfall parody scene).

But by the film’s post-credits finale – a montage of PEGIDA marches, anti-EU protests and burning refugee homes, intercut with close-ups of Masucci’s grimly satisfied mustachioed visage – Wnendt’s unceasing cynicism and ugly attempts at shock humour have long worn out their welcome, and you’re left with the impression of a dead horse (or, to reference Er ist wieder da‘s most stomach-churning scene, a dead dog) well beaten.

Er ist wieder da | Directed by David Wnendt (Germany 2015) with Oliver Masucci, Fabian Busch, Christoph Maria Herbst. Starts Oct 8