Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

Taking Sides 2001

Der Fall Furtwangler

Directed by István Szabó

France / Germany In English
105 minutes 35mm



Yves Pasquier


Ronald Harwood. Based on his play


Lajos Koltai


Sylvie Landra


Brian Simmons




Harvey Keitel (Major Steve Arnold)
Stellan Skarsgård (Wilhelm Furtwängler)
Moritz Bleibtreu (Lieutenant David Wills)
Birgit Minichmayr (Emmi Straube)
Oleg Tabakov (Colonel Dymshitz)
Ulrich Tukur (Helmut Rode)
Hanns Zischler (Rudolf Werner)
August Zirner (Captain Ed Martin)
Robin Renucci (Captain Vernay)
R. Lee Ermey (General Wallace)


Toronto 2001; Berlin 2002


"A career-best performance by Stellan Skarsgård gives pathos and dignity to István Szabó’s Taking Sides, an over-polarized but often moving examination of an artist’s travails under totalitarianism viewed through the real-life story of ace conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who remained in Germany during the Nazi era… 

Despite being Szabó’s first movie for which he did not also write the screenplay, Taking Sides is perhaps the veteran Magyar director’s most personal. As an artist who also prospered and won acclaim under a totalitarian (Communist) regime, making a string of classics from the early 60s to mid-80s, Szabó clearly was attracted to the theme of British writer Ronald Harwood’s play, directed on the London stage by Harold Pinter in 1995… [The] opening, set in wartime Berlin, arrestingly combines realism with metaphor as a concert of Beethoven’s Fifth in an imposing church is cut short by an air raid and Furtwängler is forced to move to safety. [The] remainder of the movie is set after the Allied victory… 

[The] heart of the movie – as in the play – remains the ad hoc office of Major Steve Arnold (Keitel), assigned by a vengeful US general (R. Lee Ermey, in an early demonstration of the film’s extreme polarization) to investigate the case of Furtwängler prior to his appearance before the American De-Nazification Committee… 

As the sessions between Arnold and Furtwängler heat up, the script’s simple polarities become more acute and even serve to weaken the arguments under discussion. Too often, clichés collide head-on – philistinism vs high culture, US monochromism and materialism vs European compromise and aestheticism and so on – with Arnold the blustering, frustrated soldier and Furtwängler the tortured but proud artist… with Keitel’s bulldog dialogue and performance, the movie evolves into a commentary on something very different: how artists are brutalized by regimes of all colors, and how art and its purveyors are never accorded their due respect.

This, finally, is the heart of Szabó’s movie – and the only way in which its extremes seem justified. And its soul rests in Skarsgård’s performance, a powerful mixture of buttoned-down anger and personal disappointment that combines the filmmaker’s self-questioning with the real-life character’s conflict. Though looking little like Furtwängler himself, the physically imposing but dressed-down Skarsgård creates a memorable portrait of pride reduced to penury, of a careerist facing yet another obstacle in his personal artistic mission." — Derek Elley, Variety