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“One ticket for ‘Jud Süss,’ please” are not words one expects to hear decades after the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. But there they are, spoken by a moviegoer shown in “Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film,” an unnerving documentary that considers the legacy of the Third Reich’s propaganda films. Moments later in the same sequence chronicling a rare public screening of the anti-Semitic movie, we glimpse a box-office sign, “ ‘Jud Süss’ sold out,” like some vision from an awful alternate universe.
“Jud Süss” is among 40-odd Nazi productions that cannot be exhibited in Germany without the presence of scholarly context. The director of “Forbidden Films,” Felix Moeller, provides that context with this survey of the Nazis’ film output, which was pro-German and anti everyone else — Jews, French, British, Polish. He layers clips from the films with reactions from German professionals (a historian, a filmmaker), audiences today (German and Israeli) and, shrouded in shadow, neo-Nazis.
It’s a sober treatment of sobering material. If the Nazis have been viewed as especially horrific because they arose within a highly developed Western culture, their propaganda films in turn offer the shock of seeing a popular modern form of art and entertainment being employed to incite and justify hatred and violence. Mr. Moeller, who also directed a film about the director of “Jud Süss,” seems to lean toward not suppressing these films, but even their nuance-free scenes of chest-thumping Nazi pilots and homeland-loving hausfraus remain uncomfortable to watch.
This is a documentary fascinated with and fearful of cinema’s potency, but it’s also devoted to the idea of open discourse, a stance that underlines the urgency of thinking about film critically.— Nicolas Rapold, New York Times
Sponsored by CU Film Studies
Mon & Tue September 14 & 15, 2015, 7:30 only, Muenzinger Auditorium
Germany, 2014, German, BW, 94 min, 1.85:1, NR, DP • official site