Der Fall Furtwängler

Germany, France, UK, Austria


Wilhelm Furtwängler, arguably the most distinguished conductor of his generation, is forced to face the American Denazification Committee. Although he is acquitted of all charges, his name remains tainted by his association with the Nazis.

After Hitler took over power in 1933, many Jewish artists were forced to leave Germany. Others went voluntarily into exile in protest. Furtwängler chose to stay. While helping to secure safe haven for many Jewish musicians, he at the same time served as one of the Nazi's foremost cultural assets.

The question of the artist's political responsibility within a totalitarian regime remains open to this day — whether to stay and serve one's own people or to leave the homeland.

Director's Statement

The screenplay TAKING SIDES offers two great challenges to the director. The first stems from the premise of the story. Two kinds of human behaviour, both quoting higher moral principles, collide. One — represented by Major Steve Arnold — condemns every single beneficiary and stow-away of a dictatorship built upon a murderous and sinful ideology; at the same time Arnold also defends military intervention from across the ocean. The other — Furtwängler — argues that a whole nation cannot emigrate and those who remain among the depraved must try to defend themselves. He also believes that saving a culture and cultural values is a higher mission which allows for compromise. One of them accuses from the outside, looking at everything in black and white; the other defends himself from the inside; claiming pressure. Who has truth on his side?
In filming this story, both arguments must seem valid, otherwise we end up with a monotonous story in which we know within the first 10 minutes on whose side we stand. But if through careful handling of the scenes and through the glowing humanity of the actors, sympathy and antipathy can both be evoked; if the viewer can identify with one protagonist and then with the other and finally convince himself of his being wrong — then we can create a tension which will deliver a form of truth discovered by the audience through doubts, perplexity, reflection.

To achieve this good casting is essential.

Both lead actors must be capable of creating empathy and both of them must be capable of be-having in a way that creates antipathy at certain moments.

lt is also crucial, that the two main supporting actors, Emmi and David, who follow the story all the way through should represent the audience's reaction i.e. their behaviour must be understandable and natural for everyone.
It's very important that the story of the conductor collaborating with the Nazi's should not be-come a period drama from a previous century. The audience must be able to pick up on the con-temporary dilemma in the conflict of the American officer and his adversary, the German conductor; the moral issues raised by a particular situation. Is it right and justifiable to survive a dictatorship by compromises? The expansion of the story in this direction is aided by another character: Dymshitz, the Russian officer. To make him a believable character is crucial to maintaining the delicate balance.

The other challenge is offered by the aesthetic possibilities of the film. The story we have is capable of leading us into the dark tunnels of human self-justification, self-delusion, searching for excuses, selfish realisation of ambitions, anxiety and fear. The human eye expresses these flickering movements of the soul. In their expression we can follow the changing feelings; thoughts and arguments are Born and collapse right in front of us. This story is the story of human glances in continuous change and transformation. If we are lucky we shall be able to follow these changes from one second to the next. This film should rely on the greatest achievement of the moving picture; close ups of constantly changing emotions, charged energies, the relationship of faces in attack or in defence. And naturally we can show the relationship of these faces to the world in the wide shots. The story demands a strict and clear manner of presentation based on the smallest changes in the expressions of the protagonists: this will make it possible for the audience to defeat their momentary emotional attitude or prejudice and judge for themselves as far as the moral questions are concerned.
As the film is set in post-war Germany and Berlin, the sets need to be built credibly and carefully. The sets must perfectly match the documentaries made by the cameramen of the Allied Forces occupying Berlin: these films we already have at our disposal. The exteriors have to follow these films too.

Director's Biography

Oscar-winner István Szabó was born in Budapest in 1938. In 1961 he graduated as a director from the 'Academy of the Art of Theatre and Film'. His graduation project at University was shovvn all round the world. In 1964, as a member of the newly founded Bele Balázs Studios, the 26-year-old directed his first feature film THE AGE OF DAYDREAM, which made him an icon amongst the new generation of 1960s Hungarian filmmakers.

As guest lecturer, István Szabó has taught at countless film schools around the globe (London, Berlin and Vienna to name but a few).
István Szabó was nominated three times for an Academy Award ® (CONFIDENCE, COLONEL REDL, HANUSSEN) and won the prize for Mephisto, He has received numerous other international prizes including 'the British Academy Award', the David di Donatello Prize and the Visconti Award.


Cast & Crew

Directed by: István Szabó

Written by: Ronald Harwood

Produced by: Yves Pasquier

Cinematography: Lajos Koltai

Editing: Sylvie Landra

Production Design: Ken Adam

Costume Design: Györgyi Szakács

Cast: Harvey Keitel (Major Steve Arnold), Stellan Skarsgård (Wilhelm Furtwängler), Moritz Bleibtreu (Lieutenant David Wills), Oleg Tabakov (Oberst Dymshitz), Ulrich Tukur (Ulrich Tukur) (Helmut Rode), Hanns Zischler (Rudolf Werner), Birgit Minichmayr (Emmi Straube)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Actor 2001
  • Feature Film Selection 2001