What would happen if Adolf Hitler woke up in modern 2014 (so pre-Trump) Berlin? What would he do? How would the German people react? Look Who’s Back, a ground-breaking German-made dramedy, seeks to explore and answer these questions.
Initially, Look Who’s Back is as uncomfortable as you would think, a fact of which the film is very aware. It does its best to ease the audience into the world with slapstick comedy that embraces the absurdity of its premise. An early joke, which still has me chuckling as I write this, has Hitler ask a woman, who is pushing a stroller, for the time, only for her to become horrified at the sight of him (he is Hitler, after all) and pepper spray him in the eyes. In these opening minutes, Hitler, played by the magnetic Oliver Masucci, is silly, which defuses the tension that comes from seeing the story through his eyes.
It is worth noting that Look Who’s Back, in some cases, has its actors interact with real people so that they can get their genuine reactions to Hitler on film. An early example has Masucci in costume, and in character as Hitler, actually walk to the Brandenburg Gate and talk with real tourists while being filmed from a distance. You can then laugh or cry since real people, some of whom do the Nazi salute, ask to take selfies with him. There are several scenes that are obviously filmed the same way, but I’m unsure how often the technique is used as there are many scenes where it could be possible. Regardless, the technique adds an eerie layer of authenticity to the film’s events.
A majority of the narrative follows Hitler as he regains his bearings in 2014 and reasserts himself as a political force. It’s definitely strange seeing him do things that you’d expect any good politician to do: he tours the country, interviews Germans and asks them what they feel is wrong with their country. He goes on morning talk shows and makes small talk. You almost come to like his character, but then he spouts something horribly racist, and you’re forced to check your own priorities. That is the point, after all.
Needless to say, Look Who’s Back is a deeply relevant, politically charged movie. Its main ideas have become still more relevant since its release with the election of Donald Trump in the United States. It has lots to say about political ignorance, nationalism, the media, xenophobia, cult of personality, racism, exploitation, historical revisionism and much more. There is so much going on in this movie that I am bursting at the seams trying to take it apart. It is all capped off with a resounding, clear ending that is disturbing, regardless of your political beliefs.
Look Who’s Back is a product of Germany, and was screened here at Mt. A for German film night. This makes it an inherently self-reflective piece of art. It goes beyond saying “Racism is bad,” (it does say that, however) and forces the audience to question how our actions and beliefs complement or contradict one another, and whether this dissonance makes the 21st century ripe for another dictator like Hitler. It is funny, scary and sad, all while being intelligent and entertaining. Look Who’s Back is essential viewing.
‘Look Who’s Back’ is available on Netflix.