on August 25, 2006 by Susan Green
Given its historical consequence, the holocaust is a topic with limitless cinematic potential. Mel Brooks and Roberto Benigni even propose that comedy can help in navigating the dark past. But Werner Herzog's "Invincible" may just be the oddest take yet on the Nazi era. The idiosyncratic director ("Fitzcarraldo") zeroes in on the strange, real-life saga of Zishe Breitbart (Jouko Ahola). From his humble existence in a remote Polish shtetl to notoriety in the decadent cabaret culture of 1932 Germany, the muscle-bound Jewish blacksmith is an innocent caught up in chaotic times.

   Discovered by a theatrical agent while successfully competing against a traveling-circus strongman, Zishe agrees to demonstrate his prowess on stage at Berlin's Palace of the Occult. In the country's anti-Semitic climate, the incredible hulk must wear a blonde wig and dress as an Aryan superhero to disguise his true heritage. The popular club is owned by Hanussen (Tim Roth), a sinister clairvoyant and hypnotist who admires Hitler. This pleases the many storm troopers in the audience. Zishe is homesick for his loving family--especially Benjamin (Jacob Wein), a wise eight-year-old brother--but becomes smitten with a Czech piano player, Marta (Anna Gourari). She's also Hanussen's reluctant mistress.

   "Invincible" begins with typical Herzog zeal before deteriorating into something much loonier. Part of the problem is casting: Ahola and Gourari seem new to the acting profession. She speaks in a monotone. Sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a physique to match, he has a wooden delivery and encounters a substantial arc of change that doesn't produce any real transformation. Roth, on the other hand, is positively mesmerizing as a chameleon masquerading as a charlatan. At first Udo Kier ("Breaking the Waves") plays it low-key as the city's police chief, but grows increasingly bizarre along with the movie. Starring Tim Roth, Jouko Ahola, Anna Gourari, Jacob Wein, Udo Kier and Max Raabe. Directed and written by Werner Herzog. Produced by Gary Bart and Werner Herzog. No distributor set. Historical drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 133 min

Tags: Tim Roth, Jouko Ahola, Anna Gourari, Jacob Wein, Udo Kier, Max Raabe, Directed and written by Werner Herzog, Produced by Gary Bart, Werner Herzog, Historical drama, hypnotist, mistress, masquerading, police, heritage

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