THE CONFERENCE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Matti Geschonneck

Stars: Philipp Hochmair, Johannes Allmayer, Maximilian Bruckner, Jakob Diehl, Lilli Fichtner.

On a cold morning on January 20, 1942, senior Nazi officials met at the picturesque villa overlooking Lake Wannsee on the outskirts of Berlin to discuss the “final solution” to the Jewish problems of Europe, thrashing out the best means by which to implement their policy of Aryan purity. The conference was organised by Reinhard Heydrich (played here by Philipp Hochmair), the feared head of Germany’s secret police. The conference was attended by fifteen heads of various state branches of the Nazi bureaucracy including the SS, and functionaries from the Reich chancellery and administrators of the various German occupied territories. 

The attendees coolly discussed the logistics, the costs and the most efficient methods to achieve their ultimate aim as they planned the systematic mass murder of millions of Jews and agreed on a timetable. They even considered the possible mental trauma faced by many soldiers in carrying out their duties. It was during this conference that the use of poison gas to exterminate Jews in the camps was explored. None of the attendees expressed any qualms towards the mass extermination of a race of people and the conference only lasted 90 minutes. And in between discussions they sipped on tea and canapes. It is chilling how normal and businesslike the discussions seemed. This conference is the very definition of the banality of evil.  

The Conference has been written by Magnus Vattrodt and Paul Moomertz, and is based on the official minutes of the conference, which were recorded by Adolf Eichmann (portrayed here by Johannes Allmayer), who was one of the architects of the Final Solution. Apparently only one copy of the minutes remain. Some liberties have been taken with the material for dramatic purposes, but this is essentially very much a dialogue driven drama.  

This is the third film to depict this infamous conference; it follows the 1984 German television movie The Final Solution: The Wannsee Conference and the 2001 drama Conspiracy, which starred Kenneth Branagh as Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Eichmann. This film has been produced to coincide with the 80th anniversary of that infamous meeting and serves as a timely reminder of that dark chapter of twentieth century history and of the evil that men do. 

Hochmair brings a calm almost civilised demeanour and veneer to his portrayal of Heydrich as an urbane and educated man. 

Directed by veteran German filmmaker Matti Geschonneck (In Times Of Fading Light, etc), The Conference is a handsomely mounted production, and the costumes and production design are all superb. It was shot on location at Lake Wannsee which lends an authenticity to proceedings and gives the film an almost documentary-like quality. It unfolds in what seems like real time. Cinematographer Theo Bierkens gives the film a suitably cold surface through the use of a blue and grey colour palette. His camera also movies in closeups of the faces of the various characters, silently condemning them for their guilty role in proceedings. 

The Conference is a quietly terrifying film, but it is also engrossing. 

★★★★

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