In the Valley of the Wupper | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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In the Valley of the Wupper



On November 12, 1992, an older man began drinking with two neo-Nazi youths in a bar in Wuppertal, Germany. The three got very drunk, the man spoke of "Nazi swine," the racist bar owner erroneously called him a Jew, and the youths then stomped on him and set him on fire. Amos Gitai's exquisitely nuanced 1993 video about this incident has distinct echoes of Claude Lanzmann's monumental Holocaust documentary, Shoah, in the way it circles around an event it never shows. But whereas Lanzmann's film indicts, Gitai offers a wide variety of different testimonies, suggesting that humans--from Nazis to complacently ignorant townspeople--come in many shadings. Were the youths too drunk to know what they were doing? Did the taunt of "Jew" lead to the murder? We learn that one of the killers didn't share all of fascism's "aesthetic"--he was a great lover of Elvis. And a gang of racist youths trying to distinguish themselves from Nazis speak of living in friendship with foreigners--except the dark-skinned ones. They also claim that foreigners have attacked them, unconsciously echoing the old canard that the Jews started World War II. Shots that present the clean, well-kept townscape from an elevated rail line recall the earlier use of trains to "cleanse" Germany in the Shoah, and Gitai chillingly retraces the car trip in which the killers dumped the body, showing images of Dutch fields while a voice-over describes the murder, weirdly infecting these neutral landscapes with evil. 62 min. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, July 20, 7:00, and Saturday, July 21, 3:00 and 7:00, 773-281-4114.

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