"The Wannsee Conference" is a docudrama as brisk and crisp and damnably efficient as the infamous Nazi regime that silenced 6 million souls.
Around a gleaming wooden table, 14 power brokers and paper shufflers met in that comfortable Berlin suburb to finalize their terrible plans in 1942. In 85 minutes flat, they had bureaucratized the genocide of the European Jews.
West German producer Manfred Korytowski chillingly recreates this fateful conference, at which key representatives of the SS, the Nazi Party and the government ministries signed off on the Final Solution. Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's Gestapo chief, called them together to win support for "an organizational task unparalleled in history" and to diffuse the responsibility for enacting it. Full of cognac and career ambitions, the 13 underlings went along with the program.
Korytowski, who escaped the Nazis in 1937, painstakingly reconstructs the event, from the exterior shots to the period wardrobe to the time elapsed -- precisely 85 minutes. Likewise, screenwriter Paul Mommertz lets the clipboard-carrying storm troopers speak for themselves in verbatim dialogue from Nazi and Israeli archives -- macabre pleasantries, racist jokes, facts and figures, nuts and bolts.
The atmosphere is convivial, old hands at a kaffeeklatsch. And the camera gathers it all in with meticulous detachment under the direction of Heinz Schirk. The vision is at once inane and surreal -- a documentation of what historian Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil."
Adolf Eichmann is portrayed by Gerd Bockmann as an eager junior executive. The Third Reich's "Jew specialist" sips from his cup and chats about vomiting at a mass execution of Polish Jews. "The Fu hrer fainted," says a colleague reassuringly. "It shows we Germans are human," adds Heydrich, played with scary charm by Dietrich Mattausch.
Heydrich is the archetypal Nazi nut case -- insanely racist, drunk on his own bloodstream. He handles the conference with leonine ease, flirting idly with the stenographer, whose exhaustive notes would one day become dialogue in this movie. Eerily, history and historian are made one in this watchable document.
The Wannsee Conference is in German with English subtitles and is playing at the Biograph. It is not rated, but the content is adult.