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Director Werner Herzog
Writer Werner Herzog
Stars Tim Roth, Jouko Ahola, Anna Gourari, Max Raabe, Jacob Wein, Gustav Peter Wohler, Udo Kier
Certificate 12
Running time 128 minutes
Made Germany/UK/US 2001

Reviewed by The Wolf

Zishe is a blacksmith living and working in East Poland. He's the son of a blacksmith. They are Jews.

A man from Germany comes to the village when Zishe defeats the strong man in a circus contest. He is so impressed, he persuades him to make a trip to Berlin, where he can guarantee lucrative employment as a Hercules on the cabaret circuit. Zishe is reluctant to go, because he doesn't want to leave his family, but the money sounds good and it won't be forever.

Written and directed by the legendary Werner Herzog (Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, Fitzcarraldo, Even Dwarfs Started Small), the film is based on truth and yet there is something about it that feels incomplete, as if the real story starts just around the corner.

Zishe is a simple country boy, who finds the city intimidating, without understanding the implications of those men in uniform throwing their weight around. They are Nazis stormtroopers and Hitler is within months of taking power. Already, the darkness is drawing in for the Jews. Zishe is given a job in a night club, run by the hypnotist and clairvoyant, Hanussen. He has to dress as a Viking and wear a blond wig.

Zishe's work in the club is ill defined. Hanussen and Marta, the pianist he physically and emotionally abuses, become the central focus of the plot and their story is not interesting enough to carry the film. Zishe rediscovers his faith and vows to be a Samson for his people, whatever that means.

The club is claustrophobic, Hanussen melodramatic and Zishe confused. Herzog seems unsure what aspect of this strange tale he wants to highlight. Jouko Ahola (Zishe) was a world champion in the Strong Man category and is not an actor. Unlike Schwarzenegger, he does not convey the power of raw energy. Anna Gourari (Marta) is a concert pianist of international standing, whose performance is more sensitive and believable. Tim Roth (Hanussen) stares fiercely at the camera in an attempt to hypnotise the world. He's almost comical, as he was in Four Rooms.

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