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Robert Kramer, 1985
France/West Germany | 114 minutes
Discussion after screening, moderated by Kent Jones.
“Robert Kramer’s companion film to Wundkanal documents the shooting of the film, in which Thomas Harlan entices Dr. Alfred Filbert, alias Dr. Selbert, former SS-Obersturmbannführer, head of Einsatzkommando 9 in Belarus and Lithuania to play himself, setting out ‘to use the real criminal, to deceive him and convince him it was a film about him. We were interested in the mechanism behind this average, unsurpassably terrible instrument, someone with such a murderous biography that you could compel him, in isolation, with no outside contact, to participate in a film which was fiction.’
Kramer records the misgivings of Harlan’s crew (many of them are haunted by the discrepancy between the frail, nervous, courtly old man and his murderous past), Harlan’s endless strategizing and seductively whispered directions, and the hollowed, scarred face of Filbert himself. Harlan and his crew, which included the great DP Henri Alekan, gave Filbert the royal treatment, and the strategy paid off. ‘I obeyed Harlan like I obeyed Heydrich,’ Filbert later told the German press, but he also confided to a crew member that working on the film was one of the greatest experiences of his life. Harlan’s aim was to prove that ‘you can compel someone at a specific time, under certain circumstances, to do something so marvelous that even if the work destroys him he still wants to be part of it. You can even get him to interrogate himself.’ He also wanted to show the actual face of murder: ‘A really nice granddad. That’s what murder looks like... You wouldn’t have anything against his face, but then you’d suddenly realize, ‘No, no…’”
—Kent Jones, Film Comment May/June 2010