My Neighbour Adolf – movie review

One of the hits of the 2022 Jewish International Film Festival was this quirky dramedy about a Holocaust survivor who comes to believe that his new next door neighbour is actually Adolf Hitler living incognito.

Somewhere in South America in 1960. Grumpy and surly Malek Polsky (David Hayman) is a Holocaust survivor who lost his entire family in the concentration camps. Now he lives a life of quiet solitude in his decrepit house on the outskirts of a city in Colombia in South America. The abandoned property next door is for sale, but Polsky keeps erasing the contact number from the sign to ensure his sense of isolation.

But one day Mr Herzog (Udo Kier), a mysterious German man, moves into the house next door. Immediately a fractious relationship between the two men develops when it is clear that Herzog’s beloved pet dog Wolfie has been sneaking into Polsky’s property through a gap in the rickety fence and doing its business in his precious rose bushes. Before long Polsky is visited by Herzog’s officious and somewhat intimidating lawyer Frau Kaltenbrunner (Olivia Silhavy, from Woman In Gold) who insists that a new fence be erected conforming to the original plans for the two adjoining properties.

Polsky begins to suspect that the belligerent Herzog is in fact Adolf Hitler in disguise and trying to hide away in this remote corner of South America. Polsky once sat opposite Hitler at a chess tournament and recognises something in Herzog’s cold eyes. He contacts the Israeli embassy, but the intelligence officer is skeptical of his claims. Before long Polsky is a little like Jimmy Stewart’s character in the classic Rear Window as he sits in his pajamas in his bedroom spying on his neighbour through the lens of a camera trying to find the evidence to prove his suspicions. Meanwhile a reluctant friendship slowly develops between these two grumpy old men as they bond over chess, coffee and the shared traumas of WWII.

My Neighbour Adolf is a Polish/Israeli/Colombian co-production, and it is the second feature film from Russian-born director Leon Prudovsky (Five Hours From Paris), who was raised in Israel where he studied filmmaking in Tel Aviv. The script has been written by Prudovsky and first-time feature writer Dmitry Malinsky, and it draws plenty of edgy humour from the premise and the clashes between the two protagonists. The film explores universal themes of guilt, trauma, forgiveness, and loss. The film’s central conceit is based on the popular conspiracy theory that Hitler didn’t die in his bunker in 1945 but somehow managed to escape and moved to South America where a lot of former top-ranking Nazis found refuge.

Clever casting sees Kier, who played Hitler in the TV series Hunters, cast as Herzog, whose manner arouses Polsky’s suspicions. Over a five-decade career Kier has played some truly monstrous villains, but here he brings a softer almost whimsical quality to his performance. For his part Hayman (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) brings plenty of angst, anxiety, pathos and a range of complex emotions to his performance as Polsky. The two performers develop a prickly chemistry and a surprising intimacy as they slowly tease out details about their characters.

Cinematographer Radek Ludczuk (The Babadook) uses a grayish palette that gives the material a grim tone. He also works in close-up quite often, focusing tightly on the two men’s eyes, which further creates tension between them. There is also some great production design from Juan Carlos Acevedo and Camila Agudelo for the two houses which also creates an immediate visual contrast between the two men.

Greg King

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