BEIRUT: There’s nothing like a Nazi. When it comes to the broad brushstrokes of popular cinema convention – in which the hero is unassailably good and the villain irretrievably evil – you won’t find a better bad guy than a jackbooted National Socialist.
Audiences, it is believed, are vastly entertained by depictions of un-ambivalent wickedness being punished. That’s probably what compelled Quentin Tarantino to make “Inglourious Basterds” a few years back. It’s also the premise of “Iron Sky.”
This genre-splicing frolic from Finnish director Timo Vuorensola and writers Johanna Sinisalo (also a Finn) and Michael Kalesniko (a Canadian), premiered at the Berlinale earlier this year where it earned the distinction of being the festival’s most controversial film. The German-Finnish-Australian co-production inexplicably showed up in Beirut cinemas a few days ago, where it will likely have a breathtakingly brief run.
“Iron Sky” is set in the near future – a place where the first woman president of the United States, who bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Palin, communicates with her campaign manager via holographic telephone calls while working out on one of those devices designed to tone your flabby thighs.
The film opens on the dark side of the moon, where an Apollo-style U.S. ship has just landed. When one of the astronauts notices a swastika-shaped structure in the distance, he’s immediately dispatched by a figure in a World War II-era German army helmet, gasmask and greatcoat.
The other astronaut is taken prisoner. Turning up to inspect the catch is a clutch of Gestapo-type officers led by Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (Udo Kier), the bonbon nibbling führer of this outfit, who grimaces when his underlings habitually say “Heil Hitler!” instead of “Heil Kortzfleisch!”
Kortzfleisch’s ambitious and more energetically vicious underling is Klaus Adler (Goetz Otto). After taking credit for capturing this Earthling spy, he rips off the American’s helmet, revealing him to be black – much to the horror of his captors.
It turns out James Washington (Christopher Kirby), isn’t an astronaut at all, let alone a spy, but a model whose moon mission was nothing more than a publicity stunt to get the incumbent U.S. president re-elected.
Enter Adler’s girlfriend and resident Earth-ologist, Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), who is called upon to interrogate the prisoner.
She is introduced in the classroom, where she teaches button-nosed proto-Nazis about the wonders of National Socialism – which gives the perhaps bewildered audience a chance to catch up with how a colony of Nazis came to be on the dark side of the moon anyway.
Her version of Nazism is a far cry from the one audience members are likely to recall – and equally far from that of Kortzfleisch and Adler – in which Charlie Chaplin’s 120-minute anti-Nazi satire “The Great Dictator” is represented as a 10-minute short praising Hitler’s accomplishments.
The Nazis have been hiding out in this lunar Lebensraum developing weapons to take revenge for their defeat in World War II, conquer the earth and so forth.
In this regard the villains are most impressed by Washington’s mobile telephone-cum-personal computer, which (though not a Macintosh) is vastly more powerful than their own roomful-of-vacuum-tubes computer.
Patched into their mainframe, Washington’s mobile gives them the means to launch their secret weapon, the G?tterd?mmerung (literally “Twilight of the Gods”), a battleship powerful enough to change the horizon of the moon and presumably raze the free world.
Unfortunately for the fiends, the battery in Washington’s phone is low and G?tterd?mmerung’s workings grind back to a halt in a minute or two. Yet the prospect of getting this juggernaut up and running inspires Adler to lead a mission back to earth to acquire more personal computers, and assure victory for the Reich, personal glory, etc.
Washington, who by now the Nazis believe they’ve converted to their side – they’ve Aryanized him (with bleach), and Richter has suggested it would be better if he could pretend to be a Nazi – is sent along to assist Adler’s search. Richter, who’s taken a liking to Washington, smuggles herself aboard the ship.
Naturally things don’t go quite according to plan. Adler does eventually get his hands on the computer he needs for world conquest (an i-Pad, appropriately enough), but first he and Richter attract the attention of the president’s voracious campaign manager Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant), who gives their Nazi outfits a Versace-style makeover and puts them to work as the inspirational shock troops for her boss’s re-election campaign.
“Iron Sky” is camp of a type reminiscent of the work of Mel Brooks, who was also fond of mocking Nazis in his films. Having Brooks as a model doesn’t do Vuorensola’s movie any favors, though, since it rarely succeeds in being as funny as Brooks’ best material.
The film’s greatest strength is in its successful imagination of the Moon Nazis’ visual cultural and technology, which are at once futuristic and antique.
You need not worry about embarrassing yourself with overloud guffawing while watching this movie. Laughter can be infectious, and “Iron Sky” might be funnier if it were projected before a sympathetic house. At its height, the audience of the film’s opening night screening at Abraj cinema reached four persons.
It’s a little mysterious why such a potentially funny film has so little humor. The actors do a creditable job in bringing their sometimes-lurid characters to life. The multiple layers of irony that Sinisalo and Kalesniko deploy are amusing enough and are useful in offering up a critique of contemporary politics and society.
At the end it may be that “Iron Sky” falls short of the Brooks model because the writers simply aren’t very good at telling a joke. It’s a matter of timing.
“Iron Sky” is screening in select Planete Cinemas in Beirut.