Cusack added, "is like Europe having
a conversation with its shadow."
Plus, he said, "It was one of the best
scripts I'd ever read.
"It was as an original voice, dramati-
cally, as Charlie Kaufman's was when I
read Being John Malkovich.
"It was just a stellar piece of writing.
And I thought it was an important
film about very important things. The
themes were important and timely and
asked very difficult questions of the
audience about the fusion of art and
politics, the function of art, the nature
"I thought there were more ideas in
the first 20 pages than there probably
had been in the last 10 films that I've
"I thought, 'My God! How can we
pull this off? I've got to try this!"
Leelee Sobieski, 20, who plays Max's
glamorous artist-mistress Liselore, also
felt a connection to the project
because of her family history.
Her French-born father, Jean, a
painter, shares bloodlines with the
17th-century Polish king Jan Sobieski,
for whom legend has it, the bagel was
invented. Her beloved late maternal
grandfather, Robert Salomon, a Navy
captain, attended synagogue near his
New Jersey home, sometimes with his
"I'm sure that relatives on both sides
of my family were persecuted by
Hitler," said Sobieski, whose role was
further informed by her work in the
2001 NBC Holocaust miniseries,
Uprising. "Liselore is the only charac-
ter who immediately despises Hitler,
and after playing a Warsaw ghetto par-
tisan, it was very easy for me to look
at Noah Taylor and think, 'I hate
Taylor, not surprisingly, was the
actor with the most reservations about
signing on to Max.
The slender, affable Australian actor
had brilliantly portrayed another tor-
tured artist in the acclaimed 1996 film
Shine, based on the life of the mentally
ill pianist David Helfgott, the son of a
domineering Holocaust survivor.
But playing Hitler was another mat-
"I was debating whether this was a
role that I could live with, plus the
usual narcissistic concerns of 'what will
this do to my career?"' he sheepishly
said during an interview. "But eventu-
ally I realized my fear of the role was
precisely why I should do it."
THE FILM on page 68
Film imagines Hitler as the tormented young artist
but never flinches from the horror of history
and never imagined that they, as
could be construed by political
Special to the Jewish News
opportunists as enemies of the state.
dolf Hitler bores in on the
Rothman is also a stand-in for
those Jews who were so embedded in
blank canvas, his brush quiv-
ering in mid-air. He hesitates, Germany's intellectual and cultural
life that they dismissed the nascent
then makes a confident stroke. Alas,
fascist movement as a rabble,
inspiration is an illusion, and
or thought themselves
he can manage nothing
V immune From its violence.
more than that dash 4
With a mix of cond.escen-
black on the pristine surface.
sion, compassion and self-interest, the
Destitute, disenfranchised and
friendless, the bitter 30-year-old veteran gallery owner supports Hitler's artistic
ambitions. Rothman gives Hitler
of World War I is at a crucial juncture.
money for paints, introduces him to
What will he make of his life? And
nature and women and challenges
how will he channel his fury at wasting
him to dig deep and reveal himself.
four years in a trench while, in his view,
Dutch screenwriter Meyjes sets up a
. the privileged class looted Germany?
neat dialectic in his directorial debut.
It's a measure of Menno Meyjes'
He has a devious army officer recog-
provocative and fascinating Max that
nize Hitler as the savviest of the myri-
— even though we know full well
how Hitler and history turned out — ad alienated war veterans in Munich
we hold our breath, yearning for this
tormented man to break through
and find an outlet in painting.
Max is a brilliant exploration of the
human impulse for self-expression,
and the deviant, destructive path that
extremely frustrated people choose —
with Jews frequently their target.
Extravagantly jammed with ideas, it also
packs a powerhouse emotional kick.
Max conceives of a pivotal
Cusack in "the most mature and
acquaintance between two opposites
affecting peafimance of his careen"
in 1918 Munich.
and cultivate him as a public speaker.
Hitler (Noah Taylor) is a suspicious
When Hitler begins to discover the
loner who's desperate to find some-
power of words, he is torn between
thing — anything — that he's good at.
He chances to meet Max Rothman, art and politics.
a self-confident Jew from a wealthy
Max was the object.of some criti
cism, even before those detractors
family with a stylish home, a devoted
had seen the movie, for daring to
wife, two lovely children, a comely
mistress and an art gallery dedicated
But while Max depicts Hitler as a
to cutting-edge artists.
pitiable (and occasionally sympathet-
Charming, witty and educated,
ic) character, it in no way glorifies
Rothman (John Cusack, in the most
him. The film seeks to illuminate the
mature and affecting performance of
his career) is, however, not a dilettante. forces that make a despairing, despert:
ate man cynically choose evil, a sub- -
He lost an arm in the Great War,
ject of ongoing interest to anyone
quashing his own artistic aspirations,
who savors civilization over anarchy.
and he empathizes with veterans like
Of even greater import, there is not a
Hitler who have few prospects in
Germany's postwar Depression.
single frame in Max that does not evoke
the monstrosity of the Holocaust.
Although a fictional character,
From the opening shot of train
Rothman embodies two strands of
European Jewry. A patriot who enlist- tracks — Rothmans gallery is located
in an abandoned train depot — to its
ed in the army, he represents those
shattering conclusion, Max does not
who thought of themselves as
flinch from the horror of history. [1.]
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