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Taking Sides
cast: Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgård, Moritz Bleibtreu, and Birgit Minichmayr

director: István Szabó

105 minutes (15) 2001
widescreen ratio 16:9
Guerilla DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by John Percival
Taking Sides is an adaptation of the play by Ronald Harwood centring on conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler (Stellan Skarsgård). Furtwangler chose to remain in Berlin after Hitler took power in 1933, whilst there he served as one of the Nazi's foremost cultural assets. Once the war is over he endures intense interrogation from Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel), a brash US Army major assigned to root out Nazi collaborators.

It is quite obvious that Taking Sides began life as a play. The drama and tension is based solely on the dialogue and the strength of the acting as opposed to long action sequences. Steve Arnold has been bought in to use his interrogation skills to get to the bottom of Furtwangler's role in the Nazi Party. Harvey Keitel brings intensity and determination to the role, and as the 'all American' Steve, he instantly takes charge and rearranges his foreign surroundings to suit his purpose. He plans each move to deliberately prompt a response from his subject. Stellen Skarsgård looks visibly uncomfortable with the weight of Furtwangler's dealings with Hitler and the constant questioning from Keitel's Arnold. The two actors battle admirably through the interrogation with one certain of his innocence and one certain of his guilt. It is good to remember that Furtwangler was the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, not a soldier or a war criminal. He even saved the lives of a number Jewish people but here the Americans are determined that Furtwangler was Nazi even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Arnold on the other hand is loud mouthed and completely ignorant of the foreign culture around him.

Furtwangler has many witnesses to how he performed as an artist under Hitler's regime and how he always believed that art was more important than politics and that would ultimately save him. However it is Arnold's relentless quest to drive out a confession that provides the real spark. His determination often blurs the line between American hero and Nazi villain, as he does not appear to care if Furtwangler is telling the truth or not. He has already made up his mind and passed sentence. He has viewed footage of dead bodies from the concentration camps and he views Furtwangler as guilty as if he had worked in the death camps himself.

Director István Szabó's backdrop is an interesting and compelling view of what Germany was like immediately after World War II, following the fall of Hitler. Taking Sides is an extremely gripping drama with connotations that some might find unsettling, but ultimately the moral issues are left for the audience to decide. It is dark and complex but the passion in the dialogue between the two lead actors is incredibly engaging.

This DVD comes in a two-disc set, with the film on the first disc, and a 'making-of' featurette, a documentary and a stills gallery making up the second disc.
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