One day, Bernward Vesper’s mum told him over dinner that he owed his existence to Hitler. His Nazi dad never wanted kids, but he could not refuse the Führer’s procreation order. Bernward grew up a pretty confused lad. He was the loving son of a Nazi author and became the husband of original RAF terrorist Gudrun Ensslin. This paradox is the crux of Andres Veiel’s movie Wer wenn nicht wir, and few films have examined the postwar German parent/child trauma so squarely.
The early 1960s are brilliantly evoked by way of its moral and psychological conflicts, when passersby told anti-capitalist protesters, “Hitler forgot to gas you.” The strongest part of the movie is the first half, when Bernward (Diehl) is an arrogant undergraduate. It’s genuinely heart-wrenching to watch this precocious student desperately defending his father’s legacy by publishing his collected works, even though it ruins his own reputation. But once he’s gotten over that, and Vesper becomes a conventional leftist publisher flirting with his wife’s terrorist inclinations, the emotional drama gets reduced to the old rights and wrongs of blowing up the KaDeWe. Then we’re on ground already well-covered in The Baader-Meinhof Complex – but with a much campier Andreas Baader, played by Alexander Fehling as a puny, mascara-wearing teenager – managing to make the master terrorist an even more annoying tosser than Moritz Bleibtreu did.
WER WENN NICHT WIR | Directed by Andres Veiel (Germany 2011) with August Diehl, Lena Lauzemis, Alexander Fehling. Opens March 10