Today: February 22, 2024

Invincible

Invincible is roughly based on the true story of Zishe Breitbart, a Jewish blacksmith come strongman, who inadvertently becomes a sensation in Weimer Germany.

Invincible
is roughly based on the true story of Zishe
Breitbart, a Jewish blacksmith come strongman, who inadvertently becomes
a sensation in Weimer Germany.
The film starts out
in Zishe’s hometown in Poland where he wins a strong man competition and is immediately
signed up by an entertainment scout from Berlin. Quickly into his new
profession he is acquired by a new employer, Eric Jan Hanussen. Played
by Tim Roth, Hanussen isn’t your
average evil boss. A clairvoyant, who is seen as a godlike figure capable of
incredible acts of magic and hypnosis. Hanussen has appointed himself as a
prophet for the growing National Socialist party and one day aspires to have
his own ministry of the occult in Hitler’s government. As a part of Hanussen
own variety/cabaret show, Zishe adopts the role of the mythical Ziegfried, a
blonde Nordic colossus, aka the perfect Aryan. The young Nazi audience quickly
take to Ziegfried and he becomes an unexpected hit.

What the audience doesn’t know is that
Zishe is actually Jewish and as anti-semitism begins to grow in Germany he is
forced to question his role in this hostile society. To make matters worse
Zishe has a turbulent relationship with Hanussen, after he becomes acquainted
with his wife; Marta. Both despising but respecting one another they both see
the benefits of working together. Hanussen sees it as a lucrative business
opportunity that will only increase his potential in becoming a member of the
Nazi party and Zishe hopes that one day he will be able to help his family and
fellow Jews in the oncoming oppression that would befall them.

Herzog
has long been intrigued by folklore and fables. Zishe Breitbart is known
amongst Jews as ‘The Invincible’ due to his incredible size and strength. His
earlier films The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and Aguirre, The Wrath of
God
all were based around legendary tales that Herzog adapted brilliantly
to the screen. A lot of those movies, plus a few others can be seen in
Invincible. Take for instance the constant reference of Hanussen’s hypnotic
abilities. Hypnosis has been a theme that Herzog has visited in the past, once
again in Kasper Hauser but also in Heart of Glass, where the entire cast
was hypnotised. Bearing these two key plot points its obvious that Invincible
was a pet project Herzog had wanted to personally make.

Whilst it does have a lot to admire
Invincible can fall a little flat at times. It never really delves into the
psyche of the characters and their true desires and aspirations. This is
unfortunately down to Jouko Ahola being cast as the leading man. Partly cast
due to his enormous frame and presence his acting at times can go against his
otherwise peak physical condition. Perhaps we are used to seeing Herzog work
with incredible actors like Klaus Kinski and Bruno S that we’ve
come to expect him to always be with the best talent. Considering this was
Ahola’s first film, strong criticism would be a little harsh. In fact at times
he reminds you of a young Schwarzenegger when he was appearing in films
like Hercules in New York.

The true star of the show though is Tim
Roth, who is on fine form as Hanussen. His presence on screen throughout is
electric and he commands the screen in every scene. Manipulating his friends,
colleagues, wife and audience gives the impression that this Hanussen character
would have been a real force to be reckoned with. Udo Kier is also on tremendously eccentric form plus Herzog’s own
voice makes a cameo.

There are things to like here, such as
Tim Roth, and some incredible set pieces but ultimately Invincible struggles to
find its feet. Starting out as a period piece, it changes direction erratically
from a fantastical stage show to courtroom piece and then back to a period
setting. This lack of focus and direction spoils the film and is unusual for
Herzog. The recent rise in popularity for the Bavarian director can be the only
reason for this film’s re-release which is a shame really. Not awful by any
means but there are plenty of other Herzog films worthy of a re-release.

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