Review: HHhH – The Man with the Iron Heart (2017)

HHhH – The Man with the Iron Heart (2017)

Directed by: Cedric Jimenez | 120 minutes | action, biography, thriller, war | Actors: Jason Clarke, Rosamund Pike, Mia Wasikowska, Jack Reynor, Abigail Lawrie, Jack O’Connell, Stephen Graham, Geoff Bell, Thomas M. Wright, Noah Jupe, Enzo Cilenti, Oscar Kennedy, Barry Atsma, Volker Bruch, Céline Sallette Gilles Lellouche, Adam Nagaitis, Bart Edwards

Nuance comes, if you wait long enough. War films that came out in the decades after 1945 were still lacking. You could count on clichés. The German Army as an entire generation of sadistic, murderous, screaming and shooting psychopaths. The Allies as tough, peace-loving, honest family men. Resistance people as brave, self-sacrificing and loving citizens. The war as a struggle between one group of stereotypes and another.

Those clichés served their purpose. Those who are busy licking their wounds have no need to humanize the perpetrators. He does not want to know that the wound was inflicted by a man like himself. But after a few decades, the nuance appears. This also applies to novels and films about the Second World War.

Why this lengthy introduction? Because with ‘HHhH – The Man with the Iron Heart’, we are back to square one. In this film adaptation of the popular novel by Laurent Binet, we see the preparation, execution and consequences of the attack on Reinhard Heydrich. The film has an original and successful structure. First we dive into the life of Heydrich, the hard-hitting German commander in Prague. Then we meet the attackers. The last half hour we see the bloody consequences of the attack.

Cinematically, there is little to criticize about this war tragedy. Music, visuals, acting, all equally thorough. The problem is in the characters. Heydrich is a man with an iron heart, but without any personality. His wife is an icy aristocrat. Not for a moment do you have the idea that you are looking at real people, but at a personification of the cold and the evil. The resistance fighters, on the other hand, are roguish boy scouts, bon vivants, freedom-loving idealists and great lovers all rolled into one. Ideal sons-in-law, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. As long as you consider German soldiers less than a fly.

That old-fashioned mix of idealization and demonization makes it seem like we’ve stepped into a time machine. ‘HHhH’ looks more like an adventurous propaganda film from bygone times than a historically sound war film. Of course you can’t blame the makers for that choice. It is true that in 2017 we are watching a hopelessly dated film.

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