Based on a true story, this is the compelling tale of a simple Jewish man who leaves his humble village to become a mythical strongman in Berlin. Stars Jouko Ahola, Tim Roth, Udo Kier.
Werner Herzog’s fiction film is based on the true story of Zishe Breitbart (Ahola), a Polish Jew from a humble shtetl who was touted as the world’s strongest man. Discovered at a traveling carnival and brought to Berlin to perform in a nightclub run by the self proclaimed clairvoyant Erik-Jan Hanussen (Roth), Zishe is forced to perform feats of strength on stage in a blonde wig under the name Siegfried in order to mollify the club’s significant Nazi contingent. However, as the naive Zishe begins to see the danger the Nazis represent to his people, he declares his heritage on stage, outraging the secretly Jewish Hanussen and his Aryan audience. Populating his cast with mostly nonprofessional actors, including Jouko Ahola, a Finnish real life strongest man contest winner, Herzog takes what could have been a rousing sentimental biopic and turns it into a brooding cautionary tale about a character with mythic aspirations. Providing contrast are Tim Roth’s scaly and charismatic Hannussen, and Udo Kier’s brief turn as the aristocratic Helldorf, which, combined with Herzog’s dreamlike imagery, give the film the feeling of a surreal fable.
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