Austria, France, Germany, UK, 105 min.

director.gif (905 bytes)Istvan Szabo


Stellan Skarsgård - Wilhelm Furtwängler
Harvey Kietel - Maj. Steve Arnold
Moritz Bleibtreu - Lt. David Wills
Birgit Minichmayr - Emmi Straube
Oleg Tabakov - Col. Dymshitz
Ulrich Tukur - Helmut Rode
Hanns Zischler - Rudolf Werner
August Zirner - Capt. Ed Martin
Robin Renucci - Capt. Vernais


  September 13, 2001 - Toronto Int'l Film Festival


 Berlin  Int'l Film Festival
Mar de Plata Film Festival
Hong Kong Int'l Film Festival
Moscow Film Festival
Karlovy Int'l Film Festival
Norwegian Int'l Film Festival
Copenhagen Int'l Film Festival



A tale based on the life of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the controversial conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic whose tenure coincided with the controversial Nazi era. One of the most spectacular and renowned conductors of the 30s, Furtwangler's reputation rivaled that of Toscanini's. After the war, he was investigated as part of the Allies' de-Nazification programme. In the bombed-out Berlin of the immediate post-war period, the Allies slowly bring law and order--and justice - to bear on an occupied Germany. An American major is given the Furtwangler file, and is told to find everything he can and to prosecute the man ruthlessly. Tough and hard-nosed, Major Steve Arnold sets out to investigate a world of which he knows nothing. Orchestra members vouch for Furtwängler's morality - he did what he could to protect Jewish players from his orchestra. To the Germans, deeply respectful of their musical heritage, Furtwängler was a demigod; to Major Arnold, he is just a lying, weak-willed Nazi.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)PRODUCTION NOTES:

The film is adapted from a stage play based on actual events. Robert Harwood wrote the script, and the film was produced in the former East Berlin at a refurbished studio that once housed Ufa, the famed German film studio. Cinematographer Lajos Koltai describes the film as an exercise in minimalist filmmaking. There were 43 days of principal photography, mainly on the set where the maestro was questioned. There is also an opening scene of a concert staged in a church, some background footage of the city that establishes a sense of place and time, and cut-aways to a lake. Transition shots were filmed on an elegant staircase in a 60-foot long corridor and in a waiting room. Both led to the main set. "We want to transport the audience to Germany in 1946, so they get inside the characters' minds and decide whether Furtwängler is a war criminal," says Koltai.

Szabó wanted the actors to have total freedom to follow their instincts, so the film looks and feels natural. There were no marks for them to hit. If an actor felt his character would get up and walk to a window or another part of the room, Koltai decided whether to follow with the camera or lens or show them receding in the frame.

This is the eleventh time Koltai has worked on a film with Istvan Szabó at the helm.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)STELLAN:

It was probably the scariest thing I've ever done. I'm used to moving to music but I am not used to the music moving to me because you have to be ahead of everything and doing it with an entire symphony orchestra... And to make it more fun, you had 600 extras to watch when you made a fool out of yourself. But I understand the sort of  power kick a conductor can get out of it. And, of course, the music was beautiful but it was really scary.

In the film, it will not be the Furtwängler who really existed. He, parts of him, are used to put up a moral dilemma and when I do the part, what serves the moral dilemma is more important than whatever might be accurate. It's pretty complicated to balance the character. You have to be able to feel critical about him and then; and then identify with him because if you don't ever identify with the character, you will not cause a moral conflict within the audience. No decision during that era here in Germany was easy and we have to know that.

When I saw Istvan Szabo's "Mephisto" and I left the cinema, I was very upset. I was not upset because I could criticize... but I was upset because I could not tell what I would have done. I think it's a very good lesson and hopefully the audience has some doubts about themselves because if you have those doubts about yourself, there is a better chance that you will do the right thing, because you keep an eye on yourself.

Also check out Stellan's interview with the NY Times, and the photos from Berlin and Karlovy.


"Stellan Skarsgård’s deceptively low-key performance as the beleaguered musician — furtive, indignant, drowning in self-pity blended with a kind of ruined nobility — pushes the emotional temperature to a quiet fever pitch, and raises fascinating questions about the moral predicament of cultural figures working under totalitarian regimes."   ...L.A. Weekly

"A career-best performance by Stellan Skarsgård gives pathos and dignity to Istvan Szabo's Taking Sides."   ...Variety

"Mr. Skarsgård doesn't look much like the conductor, who is shown at the podium in an old newsreel at the end of the movie. But in a wonderfully layered performance that never turns mawkish, he allows Furtwängler's defenses to be peeled away to expose his raw, quivering soul. ... NY Times

"Brilliant acting, with top honours to Stellan Skarsgård (Furtwängler) and Harvey Keitel (Arnold), reveals people in just those shadows when they want to be unobserved.   ...The Hindu

"Taking Sides relies for its impact on powerhouse performances from Keitel and Skarsgård, as their two strong characters repeatedly lock horns."    ...New York Post

"Furtwängler himself (acted with great nuance and conviction by Stellan Skarsgård) is depicted as torn between pride and humility."  ...Classicalnotes.net

"The performances are all good, and especially Keitel's passionately sincere Arnold and Skarsgård's tortured Furtwängler."   ...The Observer

"Veteran actor Keitel and multilingual performer Skarsgård give multi-layered, convincing performances throughout the film."  ...Orcasound

"Stellan Skarsgård gives a fine performance as the proud conductor, who is soon humbled by Arnold's relentless attacks."  ...St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"This movie, like Elia Kazan's of A Streetcar Named Desire,  is magnificent piece of theater-as-cinema,with performances so intense, backgrounds so evocative, the camera so ingeniously placed and the tempo so crisp, it's impossible to be bored. As Arnold, Keitel is tirelessly cynical, relentlessly invasive. As Furtwängler, Skarsgård really gives the impression of a great musician in torment, tied to his native Germany and repelled by its wartime brutalism."   ...Chicago Tribune

"But the movie is primarily a showcase for two Oscar-worthy performances. As Furtwängler, Skarsgård is haughty and magnificently haunted, and Keitel has simply never been better as a crass middle American who becomes the unlikely custodian and avenging angel of the values of Western Civilization."  ...Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"For the entire film wearing the wounded and stunned look of a man who can't believe his situation, Skarsgård manages the difficult task of revealing subtle shades of shock, guilt, despair, and indignation."  ...Reel Movie Critic

"Wilhelm Furtwängler, played with exquisite finesse by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård." ...Film Forward

"The strength here lies in the performances, particularly that of the Danish (oops!) veteran Skarsgård. A compelling piece of cinema"   ...The Sunday Telegraph

"The main reason to see the film - belong to Skarsgård's impressive performance as the bewildered yet still defiant scapegoat, who can't believe his own downfall."    ...BBC

"A wonderful performance by Skarsgård."   ...Mail on Sunday

"Skarsgård has less screen time, but it's his performance that is truly brilliant, portraying in his face and body language an almost titanic struggle between denial and torment. We witness on what seems a visceral level the agony and the crumbling reason of this proud, self-deluded man."   ...Cinescene

"Skarsgård claims the moral high ground and the acting honour."  ...The Daily Express

"What an excellent film this is. Superb performances from the great Harvey Keitel and Stellan Skarsgård... fascinating true story... brilliant movie"   ...Daily Mirror

"Stellan Skarsgård's deceptively low-key performance as the beleaguered musician pushes the emotional temperature to a quiet fever pitch, and raises fascinating questions about the moral predicament of cultural figures working under totalitarian regimes."   ...L.A. Weekly

"Stellan Skarsgård is brilliant as the brooding Teutonic genius, tragically puzzled by his loss of authority."   ...Village Voice

"For the film to have dramatic impact (and it does!), a great deal rides on Furtwängler... Skarsgård proves more than equal to the challenge... For Jewish viewers, I suspect, it may be fairly easy to take sides on this issue. But thanks in large part to brilliant direction and Skarsgård's mesmerizing performance as Furtwangler, I doubt most other viewers will find it so easy."    ...Cleveland Jewish News

"As Furtwängler, the Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård gives an imperious performance, brilliantly conveying the genius of the man, his arrogance and fierce dedication to high ideals. At the same time, Skarsgård allows us to see the stirrings of self-doubt as Furtwangler confronts those who accuse him of collaboration with the Nazis."   ...Electric Shadows

"Commanding performances by Harvey Keitel and Stellan Skarsgård."  ...Hollywood Reporter

"The figure of Furtwängler is fascinating enough and sufficiently well performed by Skarsgård to sustain the interest throughout."  ...Robin Gatto, Karlovy Film Festival

"Skarsgård's performance is poignant; it has a kind of exhausted passivity, suggesting a man who once stood astride the world and now counts himself lucky to be insulted by the likes of Major Arnold."   ...Roger Ebert

"Skarsgård gives a powerful performance as a man beaten by his surroundings but grasping onto the conviction that he has lived a moral life."  ...Premiere magazine

"Skarsgård is magnetic and affecting even if he doesn't resemble the bald, eagle-like conductor, who is seen in a final documentary clip. He brilliantly captures the torment of a man who naively believed in the separation of art from politics, and in staying in his country and fighting."  ...Boston Herald

"Each one in their role, Keitel and Skarsgård camp this confrontation magnifiquement: Keitel oscillates between charm, humour and intransigence relentless, while Skasgard passes from solemn imposing to pathetic tortured."   ...Cine Chronique (fr)

"As a man who has enjoyed the pinnacle of worldwide respect now brought down off such loftiness to stand against an accusatory enemy, Skarsgård is immense as he goes through the emotions such a man would likely feel. In turns, he shows us blustery pride, confusion, defensiveness and a moment or two of uncharacteristic doubt. It's a role that is artful revelation of a character on award-level caliber."   ...The Filmiliar Cineaste

"Furtwängler beautifully played here by the Swedish film star Stellan Skarsgård... Skarsgård’s voice, eyes and facial expressions reveal a catalog of subtle transformations, from supreme confidence to agonized self-doubt, as his character—a great talent and by most accounts a great man—spirals into emotional freefall."  ...Film Journal International

"The performances of Skarsgård, Bleibtreu and Minichmayr are deeply textured and satisfying."   ...Movie Vault

Skarsgård claims the moral high ground and the acting honour"  ...The Daily Express

"A wonderful performance by Skarsgård."   ...Mail on Sunday

"Stellan Skarsgård, in his arguably best role so far, has limited his acting to his intense introverted gaze and scarce but meaningful gestures. His Furtwängler is not comfortable with words, which is not surprising since his medium of expression is music."   ...Kinema

"When the two men face off, Harvey Keitel gets meaner and tends toward the overly dramatic, while Stellan Skarsgård seems to withdraw into himself under the harsh treatment and his understated performance is absolutely brilliant."  ...Movie Chicks

"Skarsgård does a good job of portraying someone compromised yet vulnerable, who when pressed reveals a haughty, distant man who refuses to truly see the evil his country had perpetrated."  ...Miami New Times

"For the entire film wearing the wounded and stunned look of a man who can't believe his situation, Skarsgård manages the difficult task of revealing subtle shades of shock, guilt, despair, and indignation."   ...Reel Movie Critic