M. Hencke | New York, NY United States | 09/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Now someone tell me...Why does this film get lost between the cracks and movies like The Pianist and Schindler's List don't? For me this movie touched upon issues I have never seen in a movie about this era. Everyone should view this film. It is a beautiful well made fable with terrific acting, cinematography and a heartbreaking score by Hans Zimmer. One of Herzog's best and most accessible films."
Slow, Odd, but Interesting True Story of Nazi-Era Germany.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 08/09/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Zishe Breitbart (Jouko Ahola) is a Jewish blacksmith in a rural Polish village in 1932 when he successfully challenges the Strongman in a visiting circus. A talent agent in the audience proposes that the young man travel to Berlin where there are greater and more profitable audiences for a man of his talents. Once in Berlin, Zishe is employed by Haussen (Tim Roth), an occultist who owns a popular theater specializing in spectacle. Mr. Haussen understands his audience well and strives to show them what they want to see, which at that time was a salve for German egos bruised by World War I and fodder for German egos looking forward to renewed greatness under the rising Nazi tide. Haussen is pleased to add Zishe to his show, but insists that he "Aryanize" himself in order to please and not offend the customers. So Zishe puts on a blond wig and takes on the stage persona of "Siegfried The Iron King", and the audience adores him.
"Invincible" is a true story, written and directed for the screen by Werner Herzog. The story is so odd and obscure that I am not tempted to question its veracity; no one would make it up. It is also an odd enough tale to overcome the film's length and deliberately slow pace. There are long periods of time where nothing happens in this movie. Unless you are fascinated by occultist dinner theater in prewar Germany -which is somewhat cheesy by today's standards- the long stretches where the story just plateaus are likely to wear on your nerves. On the other hand, it is interesting to observe the particulars of these shows and of their audience. They provide some insight into the collective self-image in Germany between wars and how political extremists were able to exploit that to advance their own agendas. The performances in "Invincible" are all impressive. Tim Roth probably doesn't have the screen presence to be a movie star, but he is one of the best character actors in cinema today, and he does some fine work here. I don't know if Jouko Ahola is known at all in Europe, but he embodies this simple but self-possessed Zishe well. Young Jacob Wein also does as nice job as Zishe's younger brother. I recommend "Invincible" if you don't mind slow movies. It's an obscure little story, but it is pretty interesting upon close examination."
Well-made, at times slow
mrliteral | 09/22/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Invincible is the story of a Jewish blacksmith in Poland who is so strong he is invited to Berlin to participate in an occultist's show. Since this is 1932 Germany, the idea of a Samson-like Jew is unappealing to those in power, so he adopts the identity of an Aryan gladiator. Eventually, however, he comes to terms with his identity and poses a challenge to his boss.This boss, the occultist played by Tim Roth (the only "name" in the movie) is a supposed clairvoyant out to become Hitler's minister of the occult. It is a role of rich villainy, one that works well with Roth.Since this movie deals with Jews in 1930s Poland and Germany, it is hardly a feel-good flick, although the movie takes place prior to Hitler's chancellorship, when Nazi anti-semitism was still years from its violent peak. Nonetheless, the spectre of the Holocaust looms over everything.Although the movie has a lot to recommend it, it is not very well-paced and every time you think it's about over, it goes on. After a while, you begin to feel the length of the film. Nonetheless, this is a good film and worth watching."
Judy Bart Kancigor | Fullerton, CA United States | 09/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"author of Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family
from the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles August 30, 2002
In the 1920s, the son of a destitute blacksmith from Lodz, Poland, amazed the world with his feats of strength. Heralded as the modern Samson and the Iron King, Zishe Breitbart became a Jewish folk hero, twisting bars of iron, pulling trains by his teeth and killing bulls with his fists.
While other kids heard bedtime tales of princes, frogs and giants, my brother, Gary Bart, and I were weaned on the Circle of Death, a motordome balanced on the strongman's chest bearing two motorcycles chasing each other in a circle.
The fact that a Jew had become famous for his strength was remarkable; the fact that he was a cousin was riveting.
While I moved on to other things, the little boy who was my brother -- so fascinated with the strongman's heroic deeds that his friends actually began calling him "Zishe" -- became obsessed, and when "Invincible" opens in Los Angeles in September, my brother, the producer, will have realized a lifelong dream.
"I felt since childhood that I was on a mission to discover everything about him," he says, "and tell the world that at a time when there was a great perception of Jewish weakness, there was an enormously strong Jew who defended and inspired his people."
My brother's quest led him through archives and libraries where he discovered that almost everything written about Breitbart was in Yiddish, German, Polish, Czechoslovakian -- everything but English. He hired translators and researchers, placed ads in Jewish newspapers around the world, consulted curators and experts in circus history, vaudeville and the physical culture movement, even obtained nine original Breitbart circus posters from a dealer who had bought out the contents of a bankrupt East German museum.
A researcher he hired in Vienna uncovered the dramatic story of a conflict between Breitbart and a famous hypnotist named Hanussen (played in the film by Tim Roth), who eventually became Hitler's clairvoyant. In a sensational trial, each accused the other of defamation.
"I think what fascinated Tim about the role," Bart says, "was that here was a man who fancied himself the minister of the occult in the emerging Third Reich, who had published a newspaper that supported Hitler and raised funds to support anti-Semitic organizations, and who we later discover in the film is Jewish himself."
Getting the film made proved my brother almost as invincible as his hero. After working for a year and a half with an English playwright on a script, a producer friend mentioned the idea to famed German director, Werner Herzog, who accepted the project on the condition that he write his own script. "Although he would be faithful to the character and major events, he wanted artistic license to tell the story."
"When Werner finally agreed to do the film, I flew up to his home in San Francisco," Bart says. "We had a fine dinner. He opened a bottle of wine, and I said I thought it was a great leap of faith on my part turning the project over to him, a German, not a Jew, that I thought we could heal some wounds and be an example to others."
Securing financing for the film was accomplished through Fine Line for American rights and Channel 4 England for world rights.
Nothing prepared Bart, however, for the actual experience of filming in Germany -- a country that our dad would never set foot in because he had lost so many family members in the Holocaust -- or for eating lunch with actors dressed as Nazis, armed with authentic Nazi rifles.
The shtetl scenes were filmed in the Latvian village of Kuldiga. "Here was a formerly Jewish town that looked totally untouched by the war. It's exactly like all these photos you see. The only thing missing were the Jews."
Other scenes were shot in Vilnius, formerly Vilna, the seat of Jewish learning in Eastern Europe. "There's virtually nothing Jewish left there at all," Bart notes. "I searched for a mezuzah, or even nail holes where a mezuzah might have been, and found nothing."
Knowing that he would spend Passover in Germany, Bart had packed haggadot and managed to locate a kosher caterer in Cologne who brought everything: seder plate, matzot, even kosher wine. "Although only myself, the assistant director and head wardrobe designer are Jewish, the main actors attended, as well as Werner, who, being the consummate director that he is, started directing and virtually took over the seder!"
In all, Bart spent five months in Europe. "I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility," he says. "Since Werner is not Jewish, I wanted to be sure all things Jewish were done properly and that Breitbart's portrayal was true to his character."
The Return of Herzog
Marcus Nicholas Niko | Chicago, IL United States | 06/17/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Herzog's return has definitely made me realize how desperate I am to see a movie by a director whose main focus is to explore in films rather than simply entertain an audience. I don't think criticizing the "slowness" of the movie makes any sense, because anyone who's seen Herzog movies knows he doesn't nervously speed through his films, and personally, this is what I admire about him. Patience is something that a film can help us regain, or at least remind us that it is still possible today to be patient. If there is something to criticize, it is the dialogue in certain scenes, which the actors had trouble bringing to life (not Tim Roth). Some of the lines were a shade too sentimental and simple. To be honest, the beginning of the movie was a bit cliche-strong, but by this I mean the first thirty minutes or so. Eventually though, the imagery of the film , and the greater allegory (which wasn't calculated allegory) of Nazi Germany, make up for these minor flaws. The dream sequences are amazing, as well as the set of the clairvoyant, equipped with a tank of jellyfish. I hope that there will be more from this genuine filmmaker in the future, and soon. It is one thing to be patient while watching a movie, and another while waiting for the arrival of another film by a master. It seems patience in the latter case, today, among so many cinematic failures, is almost impossible."