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Taking Sides

4 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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(Apr 27, 2004)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

From the Academy Award" winning writer of The Pianist comes the provocative story, based on true events, of Wilhelm Furtwängler, arguably the most distinguished conductor of his generation.

After Hitler took over power in 1933, many Jewish artists were forced to leave Germany. Wilhelm Furtwängler (Stellan Skarsgård) chose to stay, serving as one of the Nazi`s foremost cultural assets. Though never a member of the Party, Furtwängler was the recipient of government honors and appointments, associated with party members. However, the conductor often used his position and contacts to save hundreds of Jewish musicians from the concentration camps.

When Major Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel) is given the task of carrying out pre-trial investigations against Furtwängler, his aim is to prove that the conductor’s artistic genius contributed to the Nazi propaganda machine and their destructive ideology. Conversely, Furtwängler insists he chose to stay to bring comfort to the German people with his music.

Like a master conductor, director István Szabó orchestrates the debate from cat-and-mouse intensity. Taking Sides is that rare film that demands the audience to take a position on an issue: in this case, the complicity or innocence of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

An impassioned clash of art and politics lies at the heart of Taking Sides, a historical drama that resonates with timeless relevance. Director Istvan Szabo remained in his native Hungary during Soviet occupation, and that experience clearly informed his approach to this fact-based film about Wilhelm Furtwangler, the celebrated conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, who chose to remain in Germany as the Nazis rose to power. World War II has ended, and now Furtwangler (superbly played by Stellan Skarsgârd) must endure intense interrogation by Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel), a pugnacious U.S. Army major assigned to root out Nazi collaborators. While the overzealous Arnold deals in moral absolutes, Furtwangler's embrace of art for art's sake opens him up to charges that he supported Hitler, intentionally or not, by naively believing that art and politics could remain separate in the cauldron of the Third Reich. Based on the play by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist), Taking Sides presents a compelling collision of ideologies, probing complex personal and political motivations while presenting an authentic, emotionally charged portrait of German culture immediately following Hitler's demise. Despite its title, the film itself remains neutral regarding its central argument, leaving the viewer to ponder the weighty issues involved. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • Cast and crew interviews

Product Details

  • Actors: Moritz Bleibtreu, Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgard
  • Directors: Istvan Szabo
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Unknown)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: New Yorker
  • DVD Release Date: April 27, 2004
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0001DCR0M
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,253 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Taking Sides" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
TAKING SIDES achieves what so many other attempts at exploring the extremes of the human psyche under duress do not. That nether land of doubt that exists when aftermath 'truths' can only be postulated and not proved is the fodder from which writer Ronald Harwood (who also wrote 'The Pianist') has created a terse and tense examination of the investigation by the Allied Forces of Conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler. Was he a Nazi sympathizer or a protector of Jews during the Holocaust? Director Istvan Szabo maintains the format of the original play to keep the story confined to the interrogation room, straying only momentarily to develop the characters of this quasi-trial. Stellan Skarsgard is extraordiarily fine as the controversial Furtwangler, even taking on his body language and conducting moments to the realist edge. As the Allied Forces interrogator Steven Arnold, Harvey Keitel is brilliant - seethingly angry, a hell-bent Major who refuses Furtwangler any semblance of respect. Assisting Keitel are his secretary Emmi (in an astonishingly fine performance by Birgitt Minichmayr) and an Allied observer David (the equally fine Moritz Bleibtreu), a Jew who still holds the subject Furtwangler in deep respect. But the magic is in the duets by Keitel and Skarsgard, sparring with personal venom and personal despair. We are not given a decision as to the truth of Furtwangler's investigation, but we are told the results of the interviews. All of the music is Beethoven and Schubert and Bruckner (the use of the Adagio from the Bruckner Symphony No. 7 is especially eloquent and meaningful) and is played from recordings by Furtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic as well as by Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle of Berlin. This film is every bit as fine as the author's film of his THE PIANIST, but for some unknown reason it simply opened and closed in the theaters without making the impact it so justly deserves. Highly recommended on every level.
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Format: VHS Tape
This film, which concerns the behavior of the great conductor Willem Furtwangler under Hitler's regime, is only secondarily about whether Furtwangler did or did not sympathize with the Nazis. The underlying subject is the relationship between art (specifically, music) and morality: should a great artist be expected to abandon his country in order to make a moral choice? or is his duty to keep art alive in society even if it means tolerating evil to do it? And if he chooses the latter course, how can we distinguish this from craven self-interest or even complicity? These are the questions posed to the characters and to us as viewers. A terrific and unusual film, but it will bother you if you are uncomfortable with the ambiguity at its center.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I saw the play in N.Y. before I saw the movie. The late Raymond Massey Jr. played Furtwangler in the play version. With all due respect to Massey, there is no comparison to the Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard. Skarsgard is the great Furtwangler! Am I a self-proclaimed authority on the conductor? No, not really, but I have read the three existing biographies about him. I tell you that Skarsgard, without a doubt, is as close to the conductor as possible. His portrayal is worth seeing the film alone! Harvey Keitel as the interogator, WHOA! Although there are several other fine actors in this film, Skarsgard and Keitel make seeing this film a must. If your a classical music buff, what are you waiting for? The central issue of this film was, did Furtwangler offer his artistic talents to the government and thus deemed a colaborator? Or, did he simply have a love for Germany and his art to the extent he felt he needed to stay in Germany as a symbol of his and other German citizens opposition to the Nazis. Although at times he made compromises with the government, as a whole he was clearly anti- Nazi and was about to be arrested by the SS for his support of Jewish muscians just before he left the country for Switzerland. You may think I'm too sympathetic to Furtwangler, but after reading three books, I'm both a supporter of the man and his art. So,I highly recommend you see the movie and decide for your self. Lastly, while your watching this film you will probably feel that he should have left Germany a long time ago, if he really wanted to do the "right thing". However, let me tell you something most people do not know about Furtwangler. He was told by the government at one point that if he left Germany at any time, his elderly mother would be put in jail! My source is from a book written by Yehudi Menuhin's dad. Those of you who know classical music are familiar with the close relationship between the Menuhin family and Furtwangler. See the movie, there was no one like Furtwangler!
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Format: DVD
Taking Sides starts with a superb scene. We are at a concert in Berlin as the great maestro Wilhelm Furtwangler conducts Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to a rapt audience. (Ironically, the piece was also a symbol of victory of the allies, with it's da-da-da-duum motto suggesting dot-dot-dot-dash--Morse Code for "V[ictory].") At the height of the drama, there's an air raid, spotlights start shining outside, and the lights in the hall eventually go out. It really happened. Both sides played Beethoven while bombs fell. Some recordings have even been preserved, and one can hear Wanda Landowska in London, for example, performing with explosions as background noise.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movies doesn't live up to that great opening moment, or to another moment a short while later where a crowd of post-war music lovers sits in a bombed out cathedral, umbrellas raised, listening to Schubert in the rain. It's hard to give such a high-minded and ambitious film as "Taking Sides" a less-than-great evaluation (Can you imagine sitting in a room and pitching this to a production company?), but "Taking Sides" disappoints and delights in almost equal measures. I have been wishing for years that someone would make a movie about classical music in this period in history and finally someone has. Unfortuantely, the budget on this was probably very very small, and it shows. But one doesn't have to necessarily have lots of bucks to make a great film. Still, the ability to film on more locations, better CGI effects (yes, this film has CGI effects in the form of bombed out buildings) and *a better editor* would have all helped things a bit.
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