We all have trouble with our neighbors at one time or another but what would you do if you were convinced that the annoying guy next door was none other than Adolf Hitler?
That’s the somewhat bizarre premise of the engaging black comedy My Neighbor Adolf, directed by Leon Prudovsky and co-written by Dmitry Malinsky, which opens throughout Israel on January 12. This movie, which combines comedy with a certain amount of suspense and pathos, also works as a lightly comic psychological study of a lonely Holocaust survivor, who thinks that only by catching Hitler can he move on from his own trauma.
The movie, which is set in a small town in Latin America in 1960 – not coincidentally the year when Israeli forces captured Eichmann in Argentina – tells the story of Mr. Polsky (David Hayman), a Holocaust survivor from Germany who lost his entire family and lives alone in a ramshackle house. The only pleasure he seems to have in life is watering the black roses that were his late wife’s favorite before the war.
The story gets going when a pushy woman (Olivia Silhavy) with a German accent, who turns out to be a lawyer, comes by looking to rent the house next door to Polsky for her client. Polsky is upset at the prospect of anyone moving in but when he gets a glimpse of the new tenant, a bearded man with piercing blue eyes who calls himself Mr. Herzog (Udo Kier), he is stunned to the core. Years before the Final Solution was underway, Polsky sat opposite Hitler at the World Chess Championship in Berlin and is convinced that this neighbor’s dead blue eyes are exactly the ones he remembers from that day.
When Herzog’s dog, a German shepherd, naturally relieves itself on his lawn and when the lawyer insists the fence between their property is in the wrong spot and Polsky’s beloved roses are now on his neighbor’s lawn, the haunted survivor sees these annoying but inconsequential acts as nothing less than a declaration of war.
As he tries to retaliate in various ways, he also works to entrap his neighbor, who is a painter and whose house holds other clues that convince Polsky that Herzog is Hitler. But when he goes to the Israeli consulate, the Intelligence officer (a deadpan Kineret Peled) predictably treats him like a nudnik. Polsky won’t let go of his obsession and decides to find some kind of smoking gun that will prove to the world he is right, which leaves him no choice but to befriend his neighbor. Their psychological tug-of-war goes on in parallel with their chess games.
Raising questions it can't answer about the nature of evil and revenge
The movie raises certain questions it can’t answer about the nature of evil – Herzog is certainly a pretty banal figure – and revenge, and at times the story meanders. It works best if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t ponder what it would really be like to sit down for chess with the mass murderer who killed your family. Prudovsky, a director who is drawn to lowkey heroes, made one of the only really enjoyable Israeli rom-coms, Five Hours from Paris, and is most comfortable with the broad comedy of a schnook like Polsky trying to apprehend the worst criminal of the 20th century.
David Hayman, a Scottish actor, is unexpectedly touching as the lonely survivor. Udo Kier, who has played his fair share of Nazis, underplays to the point where it skews the movie a bit towards the theory that Polsky is just nuts. Kier has actually played Hitler before, in the strange 2002 short film Mrs. Meitlemeihr, where he portrayed Hitler hiding in London after the war and posing as a woman.
He is also going to play Hitler again later this year in the television series Hunters, on Amazon, opposite Al Pacino. This quirky film is the one time where he really acts the part of Hitler. Imagining what he would be like in another setting is a concept that may make some viewers uncomfortable, though. Nothing will really disturb you deeply though, and it’s Polsky and his magnificent obsession that will stay with you after Herzog’s icy blue eyes have faded from your memory.