Director: Rudolf van den Berg | 118 minutes | drama, war | Actors: Jeroen Spitzenberger, Nyncke Beekhuyzen, Karl Markovics, Nasrin Dchar, Katja Herbers, Chava for ‘t Holt, Tygo Gernandt, Olga Zuiderhoek
Walter Süskind never became a real war hero. On the contrary, because of his apparently good relationship with the German army officers during World War II, many saw the Jew Süskind as a traitor, a defector. Yet today many Jews owe their lives to his heroic actions during World War II. And although Walter Süskind is already well known as a Jewish resistance hero, his actions are now also shown to a large audience with the film of the same name “Süskind”.
The story is set in Amsterdam during the German occupation. To prevent himself and his family from being transported to Germany, Walter (Jeroen Spitzenberger) joins the Jewish Council. This ensures that the deportation process of the Jews runs smoothly and Walter will be responsible for this. In return, he and his family are initially not on the lists to be removed. Soon Süskind comes into contact with Felix Halverstad (Nasrdin Dchar) and Piet Meerburg (Tygo Gernandt) and together they devise a plan to falsify the frames and thus save small children in particular from transport. A perilous plan, for which he puts both his own life and that of his family on the line. By making friends with the German general Ferdinand aus der Fünten (Karl Markovics), he tries to hide his risky double role.
After previous smaller roles in, among others, “Everything is love” and “The twins”, Jeroen Spitzenberger now plays his first leading role in a major film and he knows how to portray this character in a strong, credible way. Especially the convincing, a bit bluff way in which he manages to take over the lonely Ferdinand aus der Fünten and respond to his feelings is very well done. The penetrating duet that they sing together (against the loneliness of Ferdinand), with Walter as pianist and singer, is the highlight of this. It is from this moment that Ferdinand comes to see Süskind as a friend and shares his deeper feelings with him. You will never get sympathy for Ferdinand; however much he exposes his soul, you keep seeing him as the face of the enemy.
For the other major roles, Nyncke Bleekhuyzen, as Hanna Süskind (Walter’s wife), and Katja Herbers, who can be seen as Fanny Phillips, has an important role in the smuggling of the children. In addition, Chava’s small supporting roles for “t Holt and Ramsey Nasr are strong. Chava plays Sylvie, a Jewish prostitute who works for the SS and Walter makes clear with a bold Amsterdam accent what really happens to the Jews who are deported. Ramsey plays Mendel Blumgarten, a rather strange Jew who is about to be deported and despite this fate, at first sight continues to sing and dance happily, because ‘what are you doing then, it won’t get any better’ and with this he puts Süskind for the first time thinking about his role in the Jewish Council.
What is immediately noticeable when seeing “Süskind” is the enormously well-hit atmosphere. The sad atmosphere is of course logical given the setting in which the story takes place, but it is especially the enormous oppression and uneasiness that you will notice. The film grabs you from the first second and this only increases during the film. The perfect atmosphere is therefore the biggest plus of this film. In addition, the supporting music of Bob Zimmerman and composer Nando Eweg also deserves a lot of praise. It is never overly dominant, but it definitely adds to the drama of some scenes.
With “Süskind”, director Rudolf van den Berg – after previously including “Tirza” – once again delivers a very strong film. A conscious choice was made to tell a compelling story and not so much to give a history lesson and the film succeeded in this. The basis of the story is historically correct and that is very important. In addition, there is no shortage of drama and you notice that the film is working towards a beautiful climax as the net around Walter starts to close. Despite the fact that many other films about the Second World War have already been made, the film feels innovative. The fact that it is purely about the situation in Amsterdam and that we see (almost) no trains and concentration camps makes this happen. The film explicitly addresses the role of the Jewish Council and the ease with which the Dutch Jews were deported. For example, “Süskind” is still a bit of a history lesson, but a very interesting one.