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Review: Murer – Anatomie eines Prozesses


- The trial and subsequent acquittal of the so-called “Butcher of Vilnius” come under the spotlight in Christian Frosch’s film, which world-premiered at the Diagonale

Review: Murer – Anatomie eines Prozesses
Karl Fischer in Murer – Anatomie eines Prozesses

Austrian director Christian Frosch came up with the idea for his courtroom drama Murer – Anatomie eines Prozesses [+see also:
film profile
, which world-premiered at the Diagonale (13-18 March) as the festival’s opening film, by chance. During his visit to the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, he stumbled upon the name of the Austrian SS officer Franz Murer, a man responsible for the atrocities that took place in the Vilna Ghetto from 1941-1943. After the war, Vilnius, formerly known as “the Jerusalem of the North”, was left with only 600 of its 80,000 Jews. Surprised about never having heard of the man also known as the “Butcher of Vilnius”, Frosch started researching the Murer case, digging into the state archives until he found evidence of one of the most shameful court cases of the 20th century. First convicted in Lithuania to 25 years of forced labour for the murder of Soviet citizens in 1948, Franz Murer was subsequently released after the Austrian State Treaty was signed in 1955. This enabled him to return to Styria, where he began his career as a district representative of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and further developed his farming business. Thanks to Simon Wiesenthal’s efforts, Murer was arrested again in 1962, and he was put on trial in Graz in 1963.

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Christian Frosch penned a script based on these court records, with a storyline about the ten-day trial that ended in Murer’s acquittal. The director’s ability to bring across the general sentiment of a nation still in denial of its recent past carries more weight than the trial itself. “Children always make an impression on jurors – the younger, the better,” says defence lawyer Böck (Alexander E Fennon) to the ever-composed Murer (Karl Fischer) right before the trial, also advising him on his choice of clothes: “Don’t wear any buttons... A worn jacket means work and homeland.” Indeed, homeland and “Austrian values” are trumps in the ice-cold lawyer’s deck of cards. He plays fiction against fact, skilfully using the commonly held belief that Austria was the first victim of Anschluss. The film also exposes the political games of whitewashing public figures and thereby makes Murer’s acquittal more comprehensible.

The jurors are unimpressed by the horror stories that they hear from witnesses. Even the heart-breaking accounts of Leon Schmigel (Doval'e Glickman), whose son was shot in front of his very eyes, and Jakob Kagan (Ariel Nil Levy), whose father met a similar fate, fail to move all of them but one. The attempts of federal prosecutor Schuhmann (Roland Jaeger) to underline the obvious fall on deaf ears in an environment oblivious to the crimes committed. The cinematography by veteran German DoP Frank Amman adds to the authenticity in its almost documentary-like approach, complementing Alfred Mayerhofer’s excellent costume design and Sylvia Kasel’s set decoration. Gifted language coach Tal Hever truly made Yiddish come to life, as in the case of Karl Markovics’ Simon Wiesenthal.

The film was shot on location in Vienna and Luxembourg, and is a co-production by Prisma Film (Austria) and Paul Thiltges Distributions (Luxembourg), with support from ORF.

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