Opening 19 Nov 2015
Who was Arndt von Bohlen? A weird jetsetter in postwar German high society? A strange “bird of paradise” whose main interests were extravagant clothes and flashy make-up? Or simply Germany’s wealthiest early retiree? This fictional documentary film, directed by André Schäfer, tells the story of the last of the Krupp von Bohlen line, the German steelworks dynasty that made two world wars possible. The movie presents a different image of Arndt von Bohlen than the gossip columns of the 60’s and 70’s did. With Arnd Klawitter, a very sensitive and creative actor, in the main role, Herr von Bohlen tells the story of an intelligent and melancholy person who was a kind of lightning rod for some of the psychological aftereffects of “black pedagogy” and Nazi ideology that plagued Germany after the war. In a fictitious interview Arndt von Bohlen tells us that he had to apply in writing for an appointment if he wanted to talk to his grandfather, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen. We learn that Arndt von Bohlen’s father, Alfried Krupp von Bohlen, who was imprisoned for several years because of his involvement with the Third Reich, showed neither interest in his son nor affection towards him and left the family when Arndt was still a child. In a real-life interview with Holger Lippert, Arndt von Bohlen’s estate administrator, we learn that not only tax considerations but also questionable manipulations on the part of the Krupp family led Arndt von Bohlen to give up both his inheritance and the family name.
The problem was that Arndt von Bohlen was not “hard as Krupp steel,” as Hitler used to say, but rather “soft as cotton,” a homosexual in a society that still valued the kind of masculinity that the Nazis propagated and regarded homosexuality as criminal behavior. As a result of experiencing constant rejection, Arndt von Bohlen sought compensation in an extravagant lifestyle that brought him to the brink of bankruptcy, while donating millions of marks to charitable causes at the same time. In an unconscious attempt to satisfy the expectations of his family and society, he went through numerous bouts of cosmetic surgery to the point of disfigurement, much like Michael Jackson, and died of mouth cancer at the age of 48.
Herr von Bohlen is not only an insightful biography, it is also a subtle reflection of life in Germany in the 60’s and 70’s. The clever combination of staged scenes and genuine documentary in this movie coupled with exceptional acting by Arnd Klawitter make this film intriguing and well worth watching. (Pat Nevers)