'Operation Finale' Chronicles The Capture Of Adolf Eichmann
Director Chris Weitz talks about his new film
This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The new film operation finale tells the story of the 1960 mission to extract former Nazi official Adolf Eichmann from Argentina and bring him to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. The film stars Oscar Isaac as an Israeli agent and Sir Ben Kingsley as Eichmann Hey PBS Harte's reporter Bethann commandos speaks with the film's director Chris White's. But first here's a clip from the film's trailer. We have a guy identified the architect of the final solution we should be putting him down like a man. I would happily put a bullet in between his eyes but that's not what we're doing here. This is strictly catch extract. Eichmann will stand trial here in Israel. What made you want to be involved in a project like this and tell this kind of a story right now. Well I think unfortunately the subject of nationalism and racist is perennial and clearly the most horrific eruption of that anyone can remember and I hope they still do. The Holocaust I think unfortunately it bears upon our times. But for me personally my father had been a refugee from Germany and joined the U.S. Army who worked in the SS so he had a tremendous expertise in the Nazi party. And when I was younger he wrote two biographies of prominent Nazi party officials and I helped him organize his research. So I was kind of steeped in this stuff at a pretty young age. Do you also feel it's important to tell these stories now as we're losing a lot of the people who are the firsthand kind of the eyewitnesses to a lot of this. We are losing the eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. And there you know every once in a while there is a poll with a shocking percentage in terms of people who don't know the Holocaust happened let alone those who are purposely denying it. So yes I think I think it is very important. But I don't think it's just about the Holocaust or anti-Semitism and I don't think it's just a Jewish issue. I think it is important to shine a light on where things had when demagoguery and nationalism spin out of control. And in tackling this what kind of a tone did you want to take. I mean how did you want to present this story. Well probably the surprising thing about the movie review Lugosi it is that it's actually occasionally funny and enjoyable and that in its shape. It's a psychological thriller. So it has a lot of bells and whistles that you would think go with with thrillers. I think that that was important in order for it to function in the way that I wanted to which was a popular movie which actually ends up making one think about some deeper issues behind it. What was your approach in terms of how you directed Ben Kingsley to play Eichmann. Because sometimes you'll get films where they kind of want to make a character like him be evil personified friend. But you gave him some very I know it sounds weird to say but I mean you get. You made him a well-rounded character as opposed to kind of a one dimensional one and. And how was your approach to that and how did you kind of direct him and set up how you wanted this character to play out on screen. Well I think that's all credit to to survive. Really. You know I had some discussions before going to battle as it were. And I think we both really wanted to avoid kind of typecast Nazi and especially to avoid portraying him as the personification of evil not because he wasn't but because that sort of allows an audience to find him away as something that can never be repeated or is unique. The reason I give a tremendous amount of credit to Sir Ben is that he has utter contempt for Eichmann personally but was able to infuse him with the humanity that I think you need in order to understand that these things are possible today at all times. The Nazis are great villains obviously but they are also sometimes portrayed and too easy. And I think that we both were very keen on understanding or at least trying to portray on film how a family man could also be a mass murderer. Even my dad who was in the SS and fought against the Nazis came to believe that under the right circumstances he himself would have joined and sort of a national fervor like the kind that grips Germany. So I think it's important for us not to be too smug about our abilities to be not bad. Now while the film is very cinematic the scenes between Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley are this very intimate kind of intense could almost be like a theater piece like a two character theater piece. There is this real and tensity in those scenes. Ask you something I'm not in a position to refuse. Is it true you call the camp's liquidation machine. Everyone used flippant terms for may seem like animals or animals just having good teeth than others. The two hander in those moments are enough for the film as a sort of duel between the two of them. It is in some ways like a theater play in part because each one of them is trying to put over a narrative on the other. And for me that was the fascinating thing about that part of the movie that everything sort of narrows to a point of these two people with one another. Of course it did all take place in the safe room of a safe house which I was rarely allowed to leave. So there is a kind of a chamber drama element to the movie as well as the sort of thriller bells and whistles we shot that on location. We shot it in sequence in the house in Cyrus. It really helps sort of the feeling of realism but also there was somewhat surreal feel to the room and as much as the production design encourages you not to be able to work out the dimensions of the room. So there's this kind of wood sort of forest themed wallpaper which manages to kind of break down the edges of the room and makes for to make a very sort of spooky backdrop to the whole thing. And what did you feel was the biggest challenge in terms of getting the story onto the screen in the most effective way. I think the biggest challenge is finding the balance between being strictly accurate to the timeline and conveying these these events in a two hour timeframe. For instance the massage took about two years to get its act together in terms of going after Highclere based on the information that Fritz Bauer the West German prosecutors had brought in. But of course in our timeline it happens rather quickly. These kinds of compressions that films do are challenges to trying to keep a realistic sense of how the mission actually transpired. There's some transposition rules you know where someone is arrested. Two weeks before it actually took place. But for the most part I think we remains accurate to the details in a way that was fortunately informed by our Masad adviser who was the guy who put together the operation criminal exhibited traveling around the world right now. Well I want to thank you very much for taking some time to talk about the film. Thank you very much. I have some questions. That was KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaking with director Chris Weitz's operation finale opens Friday in theaters.
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Director Chris Weitz talks about why a film about the capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust, is timely today. "Operation Finale" opens on Aug. 29 throughout San Diego.
The new film "Operation Finale" looks to the 1960 mission to extract Adolf Eichmann from Argentina and bring him to stand trial in Israel. The film stars Oscar Isaac as Israeli agent Peter Malkin and Sir Ben Kingsley as Eichmann.
Weitz said the film is about more than just the Holocaust: “I think the subject of nationalism and racism is perennial and clearly the most horrific example of it that anyone can remember, and I hope they still do, is the Holocaust. Unfortunately, it bears upon our times.”
But he also had a more personal reason in telling the story.
“My father had been a refugee from Germany and he joined the U.S. Army and worked in the O.S.S., so he had an expertise in the Nazi party, and when I was younger he wrote two biographies of prominent Nazi party officials and I helped him organize his research. So I was steeped in this stuff from an early age."
Although the film is a thriller with tensely staged action, it works best in the scenes between Malkin and Eichmann where it develops into a more focused psychological drama. In these scenes, it almost feels like a claustrophobic two-hander play.
Weitz and Kingsley did not want to portray Eichmann in one-dimensional terms as merely an evil Nazi stereotype, because then Weitz said, "It allows an audience to file him away as something that can never be repeated or is unique. The reason I give credit to Sir Ben is that he has utter contempt for Eichmann personally but was able to infuse him with the humanity that I think you need to understand that these things are possible today and at all times."