The ways in which the modern-day Germans deal with the atrocities committed by the Nazis in WWII can be complicated. Most Germans are very ashamed of what happened, and this is manifested in many different ways, ranging from refusal to talk about it and to searing soul-searching about its causes. But there is yet another way to deal with it: comedy.
Hotel Lux is a marvelous satirical romp about two comedians in Berlin, 1938, who specialize in comical impersonations of Hitler and Stalin. Needless to say, the SS are not amused. When the Nazis clamp down on the pair, the Hitler impersonator – the Jewish Siggi Meyer – is captured and sent to a concentration camp. The Stalin impersonator – Hans Zeisig – has been planning to escape to Hollywood to make movies, but by mistake he is given a fake Russian passport instead of a fake American one, and so has little choice but to go to Moscow. The passport was made for a special advisor of Hitler’s (I feel it might be a spoiler to say which kind of advisor!), whom the Russian secret service had agreed to help escape Hitler’s persecution. So when Zeisig arrives in Moscow, he is lodged in the Hotel Lux, which is a secret service-run waystation for all sorts of expatriates and foreign communist sympathisers, including most of the key people who would later rule East Germany!
Zeisig can’t leave the hotel, but it’s a microcosm in itself, and among other things he is taught Russian by a bunch of highly disciplined kids! He also meets and falls in love with a German communist girl (whose name is either Frida, Lisa and Clara – it’s never quite clear) who helps him out a bit. In one scene he attends a communist meeting where this girl is, and when they ask him why he’s there, he says “love”, and they all turn slowly to the huge portrait of Stalin hanging on the wall, and are appropriately awed by this guy’s devotion to their glorious leader! Next, Stalin’s people come to take him away; Zeisig has indeed been confused with the Hitler advisor whose passport he was given, and now he is forced to become Stalin’s advisor – where his theatrical skills serve him well. He is so good at his job, in fact, that by the time the real Hitler advisor shows up, Zeisig has become Stalin’s personal friend (though not so much vice versa) and the secret service has to make the other guy disappear.
It’s a great movie; I never stopped smiling and laughing all the way through, although it also had serious moments. Siggi Meyer manages to return to do his Hitler impersonation once more, and the movie ends on a high note, with Zeisig having had a real impact on the course of the war.
There are plenty of anachronistic jokes in the movie; like referring to names of events that were only called such after the war, but it’s all part of the humour and it works beautifully. I recommend this fine movie highly to anyone who enjoys political satire with a strong historical twist; in fact I think it would be amazing to have a series of movies that made fun of all sorts of historical figures in the same vein as this movie does. It’s classic and unique – so far!
In any case, Hotel Lux is one movie I will definitely want to get on DVD or Blu-ray, and I hope it finds the wide audience that it deserves.
Director: Leander Haussmann
Cast: Michael Herbig, Jürgen Vogel, Thekla Reuten, Valeriy Grishko, Friedrich Karl Praetorius and others.
Runtime: 102 min.