The People vs. Fritz Bauer

With his back to the camera, a man sits down in a room filled with shadows. He speaks into a tape recorder — plainly and proudly — about his role in the genocide of European Jews during World War II. This is the man that Hannah Arendt famously described as manifesting the “banality of evil”: Adolf Eichmann. The People vs. Fritz Bauer, however, concerns itself with his unknown nemesis, Fritz Bauer, the German attorney general who doggedly pursued Eichmann’s extradition in the late 1950s. As Burghart Klaußner plays him, Bauer was an admirable if brusque man with an unwavering commitment toward bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. That he was a closeted gay man — homosexuality was illegal in West Germany until 1969 — as well as Jewish, he had to negotiate office politics with former members of the Nazi party, complicating an already daunting job. Though decades have passed since Arendt’s character study was published, Lars Kraume has directed, if obversely, a companion piece. Largely procedural, the narrative is more than a mere depiction of, what might be called, the “banality of a bureaucrat.” Instead, Kraume and Klaußner patiently punctuate the plot with enough of Bauer’s personal foibles that a portrait of the prosecutor emerges as a rare, if gruff, bird. From the wreckage wrought by the war, Fritz Bauer’s moral compass remained reliably intact.

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