Film & TV

Film Review: The Conference

In 1942 several high-ranking officials in the Nazi Party gather for a conference in Berlin. The protocol from that conference will contain “the final solution”.

Gripping. Chilling. Brilliant.

Berlin, January 20th 1942. Germany is confident of winning the war. At a mansion in the beautiful Berlin area of Wannsee, high level Nazi officials from the military, government, and other bodies, gather to discuss “the Jewish problem”. It is at this meeting that the so-called “final solution” protocol will be drafted.

There have been several cinema and TV treatments of this subject, both dramatized and documentary. This latest version, The Conference is a German production, directed by Matti Geschonneck, the first cinema feature by this highly experienced television director. Laying a solid foundation for this work is the screenplay by Magnus Vattrodt and Paul Mommertz. Based on actual minutes of the meeting, the screenplay veers little into whimsical imaginings, with the few conversations outside of the conference room itself superbly and subtly under-written. Each word is precisely placed, yet allows for the outstanding cast to bring their characters’ own stories to the lines.

Johannes Allmayer gives a career-defining performance as Adolf Eichmann. Austrian actor Philipp Hochmair is chillingly good as Reinhard Heydrich who chaired the meeting. As Himmler’s deputy, he ran the SS and Gestapo. Every actor has brought their A-game to their role. Special mention though to Thomas Loibl who gives a gut-wrenching performance as Ministerial Director Wilhelm Kritzinger. Also Lilli Fichtner, the only female actor in the cast, playing what was clearly the only female anywhere near the conference, Eichmann’s secretary, Ingeburg Werleman. There is something chilling about her quiet, efficient note-taking. Fichtner makes an impact, with very few words, and a few perfectly placed nods.

Although the subject-matter may sound tedious (albeit horrifying) The Conference has been crafted into a gripping, emotionally satisfying, feature film. Focus is put on the participants: their petty rivalries, jockeying for power, and personal axes brought for grinding. The banality of evil is here writ large as atrocities are bickered over like any other agenda item at a work meeting. Admin saves lives. but admin also supports genocide, military aggression, and all the other acts of human-nature-at-its-worst.

Released this year to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the conference, and filmed on location in Wannsee, The Conference is an important piece of film-making, but also a thoroughly watchable and rewarding one.

The Conference screens from August 11th.

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