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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow, Odd, but Interesting True Story of Nazi-Era Germany.
Zishe Breitbart (Jouko Ahola) is a Jewish blacksmith in a rural Polish village in 1932 when he successfully challenges the Strongman in a visiting circus. A talent agent in the audience proposes that the young man travel to Berlin where there are greater and more profitable audiences for a man of his talents. Once in Berlin, Zishe is employed by Haussen (Tim Roth), an...
Published on August 9, 2005 by mirasreviews

versus
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Questions of identity and assimilation in Herzog's near-miss
I saw Werner Herzog's would-be comeback movie in it's English-language version, although it actually appears to have been shot in English as per most of the bigger budget European films. The film found little favor either with critics or at the box-office, but it still has much to commend it.

Although a significant supporting character rather than the titular...
Published on November 15, 2004 by Trevor Willsmer


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow, Odd, but Interesting True Story of Nazi-Era Germany., August 9, 2005
This review is from: Invincible [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Zishe Breitbart (Jouko Ahola) is a Jewish blacksmith in a rural Polish village in 1932 when he successfully challenges the Strongman in a visiting circus. A talent agent in the audience proposes that the young man travel to Berlin where there are greater and more profitable audiences for a man of his talents. Once in Berlin, Zishe is employed by Haussen (Tim Roth), an occultist who owns a popular theater specializing in spectacle. Mr. Haussen understands his audience well and strives to show them what they want to see, which at that time was a salve for German egos bruised by World War I and fodder for German egos looking forward to renewed greatness under the rising Nazi tide. Haussen is pleased to add Zishe to his show, but insists that he "Aryanize" himself in order to please and not offend the customers. So Zishe puts on a blond wig and takes on the stage persona of "Siegfried The Iron King", and the audience adores him.

"Invincible" is a true story, written and directed for the screen by Werner Herzog. The story is so odd and obscure that I am not tempted to question its veracity; no one would make it up. It is also an odd enough tale to overcome the film's length and deliberately slow pace. There are long periods of time where nothing happens in this movie. Unless you are fascinated by occultist dinner theater in prewar Germany -which is somewhat cheesy by today's standards- the long stretches where the story just plateaus are likely to wear on your nerves. On the other hand, it is interesting to observe the particulars of these shows and of their audience. They provide some insight into the collective self-image in Germany between wars and how political extremists were able to exploit that to advance their own agendas. The performances in "Invincible" are all impressive. Tim Roth probably doesn't have the screen presence to be a movie star, but he is one of the best character actors in cinema today, and he does some fine work here. I don't know if Jouko Ahola is known at all in Europe, but he embodies this simple but self-possessed Zishe well. Young Jacob Wein also does as nice job as Zishe's younger brother. I recommend "Invincible" if you don't mind slow movies. It's an obscure little story, but it is pretty interesting upon close examination.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where are the oscars?, September 9, 2003
By 
M. Hencke "m hencke" (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
Now someone tell me...Why does this film get lost between the cracks and movies like The Pianist and Schindler's List don't? For me this movie touched upon issues I have never seen in a movie about this era. Everyone should view this film. It is a beautiful well made fable with terrific acting, cinematography and a heartbreaking score by Hans Zimmer. One of Herzog's best and most accessible films.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Invincible" obsession, September 1, 2007
By 
Judy Bart Kancigor (Fullerton, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
author of Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family

from the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
August 30, 2002

In the 1920s, the son of a destitute blacksmith from Lodz, Poland, amazed the world with his feats of strength. Heralded as the modern Samson and the Iron King, Zishe Breitbart became a Jewish folk hero, twisting bars of iron, pulling trains by his teeth and killing bulls with his fists.

While other kids heard bedtime tales of princes, frogs and giants, my brother, Gary Bart, and I were weaned on the Circle of Death, a motordome balanced on the strongman's chest bearing two motorcycles chasing each other in a circle.

The fact that a Jew had become famous for his strength was remarkable; the fact that he was a cousin was riveting.

While I moved on to other things, the little boy who was my brother -- so fascinated with the strongman's heroic deeds that his friends actually began calling him "Zishe" -- became obsessed, and when "Invincible" opens in Los Angeles in September, my brother, the producer, will have realized a lifelong dream.

"I felt since childhood that I was on a mission to discover everything about him," he says, "and tell the world that at a time when there was a great perception of Jewish weakness, there was an enormously strong Jew who defended and inspired his people."

My brother's quest led him through archives and libraries where he discovered that almost everything written about Breitbart was in Yiddish, German, Polish, Czechoslovakian -- everything but English. He hired translators and researchers, placed ads in Jewish newspapers around the world, consulted curators and experts in circus history, vaudeville and the physical culture movement, even obtained nine original Breitbart circus posters from a dealer who had bought out the contents of a bankrupt East German museum.

A researcher he hired in Vienna uncovered the dramatic story of a conflict between Breitbart and a famous hypnotist named Hanussen (played in the film by Tim Roth), who eventually became Hitler's clairvoyant. In a sensational trial, each accused the other of defamation.

"I think what fascinated Tim about the role," Bart says, "was that here was a man who fancied himself the minister of the occult in the emerging Third Reich, who had published a newspaper that supported Hitler and raised funds to support anti-Semitic organizations, and who we later discover in the film is Jewish himself."

Getting the film made proved my brother almost as invincible as his hero. After working for a year and a half with an English playwright on a script, a producer friend mentioned the idea to famed German director, Werner Herzog, who accepted the project on the condition that he write his own script. "Although he would be faithful to the character and major events, he wanted artistic license to tell the story."

"When Werner finally agreed to do the film, I flew up to his home in San Francisco," Bart says. "We had a fine dinner. He opened a bottle of wine, and I said I thought it was a great leap of faith on my part turning the project over to him, a German, not a Jew, that I thought we could heal some wounds and be an example to others."

Securing financing for the film was accomplished through Fine Line for American rights and Channel 4 England for world rights.

Nothing prepared Bart, however, for the actual experience of filming in Germany -- a country that our dad would never set foot in because he had lost so many family members in the Holocaust -- or for eating lunch with actors dressed as Nazis, armed with authentic Nazi rifles.

The shtetl scenes were filmed in the Latvian village of Kuldiga. "Here was a formerly Jewish town that looked totally untouched by the war. It's exactly like all these photos you see. The only thing missing were the Jews."

Other scenes were shot in Vilnius, formerly Vilna, the seat of Jewish learning in Eastern Europe. "There's virtually nothing Jewish left there at all," Bart notes. "I searched for a mezuzah, or even nail holes where a mezuzah might have been, and found nothing."

Knowing that he would spend Passover in Germany, Bart had packed haggadot and managed to locate a kosher caterer in Cologne who brought everything: seder plate, matzot, even kosher wine. "Although only myself, the assistant director and head wardrobe designer are Jewish, the main actors attended, as well as Werner, who, being the consummate director that he is, started directing and virtually took over the seder!"

In all, Bart spent five months in Europe. "I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility," he says. "Since Werner is not Jewish, I wanted to be sure all things Jewish were done properly and that Breitbart's portrayal was true to his character."
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Questions of identity and assimilation in Herzog's near-miss, November 15, 2004
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
I saw Werner Herzog's would-be comeback movie in it's English-language version, although it actually appears to have been shot in English as per most of the bigger budget European films. The film found little favor either with critics or at the box-office, but it still has much to commend it.

Although a significant supporting character rather than the titular lead, it's a far more accurate portrait of famed German psychic-showman-conman Erik Jan Hanussen, the 'prophet' of the Nazi Party, than Istvan Szabo's Hanussen which, like Colonel Redl, took ample liberties with the facts to make dramatic capitol albeit with less success. Herzog's film has it's historical failings to - in truth Hanussen's downfall was linked to his prediction of the Reichstag Fire and the large number of IOUs senior he collected from senior Nazi Party members, including Goebbels and Himmler. But by linking his fate to that of the Jewish strongman he promotes as the Aryan Siegfried (in real life the two men were professional rivals), Herzog does offer a convincing portrait of the dilemma facing Jews in the early days of Nazi Germany: do you hide and assimilate to earn their approval or do you assert your identity all the stronger?

For Hanussen, the answer is to latch onto the rising star of the Nazi Party in the hope that money and power can insulate him (and in truth he was Hitler's personal clairvoyant and, shortly before exposed as a Jew by the communist press, in line to head the Nazi Ministry of the Occult: Hanussen privately wrote that he thought Nazi anti-Semitism was mere electioneering and that Hitler could be swayed by 'good Jews'). Ultimately he fails because underestimates the savagery and severity of the baser instincts he taps into. For the innocent strongman Zishe Breitbart, things are not so simple. As he awakens to the danger and rebels, he finds himself unable to rouse his people and is ultimately brought down by little more than a scratch. Both find themselves unable to control events, merely to predict the inevitable outcome of the terrible movement of history that will allow neither assimilation nor resistance.

It's great raw material, but it's never quite there. As a film it's intriguing and Hanussen's stage act is compellingly recreated through Tim Roth's unsympathetic playing (unlike Brandauer and Szabo's version, this Hanussen is ultimately a cruel victim of his own hubris and self-deception), but Jouko Ahola is not a strong enough pair of acting shoulders as Zishe - he may be able to carry an elephant, but he can't carry the movie. His performance isn't especially bad and it's probably an accurate reflection of the real man, but there's a lack of star quality that enables Roth to walk away with the film and for his absence in the last quarter to add not just an air of futility but of 'Where do we go from here?' padding to it.

Some of the early Shtetl scenes are a little awkwardly paced, the fledgling romance doesn't really work and the script is over-reliant on the audience bringing pre-existing knowledge about the characters to the film (for example, it is never explained that Udo Kier's Count Helldorf was the infamously corrupt and perverted head of the Berlin SA who ultimately murdered Hanussen) so a non-German or less-informed audience will definitely get less out of the film. There's also a lack of context - we see very little of what is happening on the streets with much of the action confined to Hanussen's lavishly recreated Palace of the Occult. But despite it's shortfalls, it's still an intriguing film that, while it never engages the emotions, has more than enough compensations to make it well worth catching.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Return of Herzog, June 17, 2003
By 
Marcus Nicholas Niko (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
Herzog's return has definitely made me realize how desperate I am to see a movie by a director whose main focus is to explore in films rather than simply entertain an audience. I don't think criticizing the "slowness" of the movie makes any sense, because anyone who's seen Herzog movies knows he doesn't nervously speed through his films, and personally, this is what I admire about him. Patience is something that a film can help us regain, or at least remind us that it is still possible today to be patient. If there is something to criticize, it is the dialogue in certain scenes, which the actors had trouble bringing to life (not Tim Roth). Some of the lines were a shade too sentimental and simple. To be honest, the beginning of the movie was a bit cliche-strong, but by this I mean the first thirty minutes or so. Eventually though, the imagery of the film , and the greater allegory (which wasn't calculated allegory) of Nazi Germany, make up for these minor flaws. The dream sequences are amazing, as well as the set of the clairvoyant, equipped with a tank of jellyfish. I hope that there will be more from this genuine filmmaker in the future, and soon. It is one thing to be patient while watching a movie, and another while waiting for the arrival of another film by a master. It seems patience in the latter case, today, among so many cinematic failures, is almost impossible.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Underrated masterpiece!, August 26, 2006
By 
J. Norberg (Grand Forks, ND) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
I saw this DVD at the library many times before I actually decided to take it home and watch it. (I think it was seeing something else with Tim Roth that made me decide to get it.) The cover shows a picture of Tim Roth doing a mystical magician type pose and some dice in the background. Never having heard of this movie elsewhere, I assumed that this was some sort of circus/Vegas movie. Hmmm, I guess the joke was on me!

Not only does this movie have nothing to do with Vegas or circuses, but Tim Roth isn't even the star of the show even though he is the only name listed on the front of the DVD! Much to my surprise, this is a story that deals with pre-Holocaust Germany and Jewish persecution in the 30's. It is a story about a Polish Jew who finds his way to Berlin as a strong man working as a sideshow for the "Palace of the Occult." He stands up to the extreme prejudice he is faced with and ultimately becomes an almost cult hero of the European Jews.

The theme of the story really did surprise me, and I must say it was a pleasant surprise. Tim Roth was somewhat misadvertised as the star of the show, but he is terrific as a sleazy scumbag. Although the main character is played by a real "strong man" and not an actor, he is just fine in an endearing role. Because of the story's attraction and intrigue, I was able to overlook some potential weak spots.

Between a wonderful, traitorous villain, and a lovable, courageous hero, the components are there for a movie that will entertain and make you cheer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WHENCE SPRINGS HEROISM?, July 15, 2003
By 
Robin Simmons (Palm Springs area, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
Is evil embedded in the human condition? Are some people born evil? Or is it always a matter of free will? And from whence springs selfless heroism?
Werner Herzog's INVINCIBLE is about Samson-like Zishe Breitbart (Jouka Ahola), a simple country blacksmith who is recruited to play the part of a strongman in fake clairvoyant Erik Jan Hanussen's (Tim Roth) popular Berlin nightclub act during the 1930s. Hitler's on the brink of power, and Hanussen caters to the Nazi's who frequent his performances. When Zishe -- on stage -- unexpectedly reveals himself to be a Polish Jew, he begins attracting a Jewish crowd that penetrates the Nazi audience. This affront to the Nazi's is great for the club's business but brings unexpected consequences to both Zishe and Hanussen. Detailing any more of the surprises in this hero's journey would dilute the movie experience. "Invincible," Herzog's first non-documentary in over a decade, displays his signature artistry, eccentricity and passion. And underlying everything is a powerful moral imperative about the contagion of resistance. I was riveted.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Allegorical Story of One Strong, Kind-Hearted Guy in 1932, July 19, 2003
By 
Tsuyoshi (Kyoto, Japan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
"Invincible" is directed by German director Werner Herzog, who is known for his very unique films like "Aguirre" and "Fitzcarrald" all visually stunning, but not for everybody's taste (some say too slow-moving). Here he comes back with a strongly allegorical tale loosely based on truth about Hanussen and Zishe Breitbart in the time before the Nazi and WW2.
In 1932, Poland. During this unstable time, there was a gentle-hearted Jewish blacksmith named Zishe, who is living with his smart young brother and family. Having a big body and incredible strength, he is invited by a travelling agent to come to Berlin to work there. He agrees, and leaves the family to meet Hanussen. self-appointed master of clairvoyance and prophet of the time. Hanussen likes Zishe's physical appearance, so hiding his identy, Hanussen dresses him up as hero Siegfried, showing him on stage before the Nazi troopers. During this unhappy period, he meets a pianist girl named Marta "employed" by Hanussen, and finds his only comfort in her.
The story, if written down like this, might sound trite and banal, but the reality is different. Herzog presents the story like a Greek myth, underlining its allegorical meanings found in the life of Zishe, whom you might find one biblical figure. As he undergoes joy and agory, he realizes what he has to do for his people back in Poland, but the tragic events are, as we know, soon to come. Though the film refuses to show the plights of Jewish people inflicted by Hitler, we sense it is coming there, and Herzog's sometimes bizarre but striking images -- see red crabs, lots of them -- are very effective in reminding us that.
As to Hanussen, played by Tim Roth, he also successfully shows the fragile and tragic aspects of humans under the mask of greedy entrepreneur. The relation beteen him and Zishe is strangely attractive, both having nothing in common except one (that will be revealed at the end). But keep this in mind; he plays rather a suporting role, not the protagonist.
Not everything is perfect, I must say. It is obvious that Jouko Ahola as Zishe and Anna Gourari as Marta are both amateurs as far as acting is concerned. Ahola is really the "strongest man" and won the contest, and Gourari is also really a concert pianist. For the director like Herzog, it is only natural that he cast the real strong man and real pianist into the roles of the strong man and the pianist. But before the professional like Tim Roth, the contrast is too much to ignore. You cannot say this, but you might really miss Klaus Kinski here.
But I was curiously involved in the story, which is not told in a sophisticated fahion, but still always remains strong. And there is an impressive cameo of character actor Udo Kier as Count Helldorf, which is too deghtful to watch.
About Hanussen and Zishe, this film is, I think, Herzog's own version, so you might try to find some books on these interesting people (I actually know another version of story, which tells that they are not partners, but rivals.) And acclaimed Hungarian director Istvan Szabo once made a film about Hanussen (the title, "Hanussen"). If you're interested in this historical person, try to find that one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A FABULOUS FABLE OF TRUTH, August 29, 2006
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
The Jews believe that each generation 36 Unknown prophets arise to bring God's warnings to the people. Unknown meaning either the prophet is an unwitting tool of God, or knows his vocation but is all but unknown to the rest of the world. In the Glitterati of 1932 Weimar Berliner society, when all manner of decadence rose to the surface and Hitler was trying his hardest to find some theological symbol with which to attach himself as Messiah, he was open to the occult and spent many millions in archeological searches for scripture or other signs which he could manipulate to make his people believe what he was doing was God's will just as another demented leader is doing today. The film is based on the true story of Zishe Breitbart, a Polish Jewish blacksmith's son who becomes a rising star in Weimar, Berlin as a mystical/mythical strongman. His employer (Tim Roth) Hanussen wants to establish an all-powerful Ministry of the Occult in Hitler's government and the strongman Zishe as the Aryan hero Siegfried, amidst his success, makes a moral decision based on prophecies he is receiving from God to become the New Sampson and fearlessly exposes his Jewishness to the demented Nazi crowd. The rest is history romanticized by Herzog. A beautiful, lyrical, poetic film, an epic tale of the signs which some believe God sends, and which the skeptics miss or mock. Roth as always is excellent, as the mysterious and sinsiter Hanussen, who though tinged with avarice and evil, shows a thin streak of goodness. The film should have won awards for cinematography and Original screen play, although there was a book from which Herzog worked. It was, at least, indeed breathtaking and inspiring.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Herzog does it again., June 28, 2006
This review is from: Invincible (DVD)
Invincible (Werner Herzog, 2001)

Tim Roth may be an incredible actor, but it's Jouko Ahola who steals the show in Werner Herzog's fantastic Invincible. Ahola, as Jewish strongman Zische Breibart, turns in a fantastic performance.

Herzog's fascination with folklore continues. Here, he gives us the story of Breibart, a Polish blacksmith who rises to fame and fortune in deux-la-guerres Germany as a strongman performing in a nightclub owned by Hanussen (Roth).In order to placate his largely Nazi audience, Hanussen bills Breibart as "Siegfried the Iron King" and puts him in a blond wig. Breibart goes along with it until a visit from his younger brother, Benjamin (Jacob Wein), who raises questions in Breibart's mind about his identity as a Jew.

It's a Werner Herzog movie, so quality is to be expected, but this is his best effort since Fitzcarraldo. A wonderful film. ****
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Invincible
Invincible by Werner Herzog (DVD - 2003)
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