Year: 2001
USA: New Yorker Films
UK: Guerilla Films Limited
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgård, Moritz Bleibtreu, Birgit Minichmayr, Oleg Tabakov, Ulrich Tukur, Hanns Zischler, August Zirner, Robin Renucci, Frank Leboeuf , Armin Rohde, Jed Curtis, Daniel White, Rinat Shaham, R Lee Ermey
Director: Istvan Szabó
Country: Germany
USA: 105 mins
UK: 110 mins
UK Certificate: 15 contains strong language
USA Release Date: 5 September 2003 (Limited Release - New York)
UK Release Date: 21 November 2003


After Hitler took over power in 1933, many Jewish artists were forced to leave Germany, persuading others to protest through voluntary exile. Dr. Wilhelm Furtwängler (Stellan Skarsgård), arguably the most distinguished conductor of his generation, 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, and conducted at party functions, including Hitler's birthday. He was named Prussian Privy Council by Goering and Vice-President of the Chamber of Music of the Third Reich by Goebbels. However, Furtwängler's concerts represented pockets of resistance from inside Nazi Germany, and the conductor often used his position and contacts with the abject regime in order to save hundreds of Jewish musicians from the concentration camps, at his own risk. Should he be punished for staying in his own country and accepting to compromise or should his efforts to oppose the evil regime from within be recognized?

The American Denazification Committee gave Major Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel) the task of carrying out the pre-trial investigation, with orders to contribute to the extermination of Nazism in Germany. For Major Arnold and his hierarchy, Furtwängler represents the moral weakness and cowardly complicity of the German people who enabled the emergence and establishment of a fascist regime. His mission is to make an example of Furtwängler in order to try to eradicate the evil. The American major, an insurance claims investigator in civilian life, is aided in his enquiries by Lt. David Willis (Moritz Bleibtreu), liaison officer with the Allied Cultural Affairs Committee and Emmi Straube (Birgit Minichmayr), a concentration camp survivor whose father was executed as one of the plotters in a failed assassination attempt against Hitler in 1944. While Major Arnold is obsessed with simplistic, absolute justice, his young assistants hold Furtwängler in high esteem as an artist instead of condemning him outright for his collaboration with the Nazis. Two worlds collide therefore: on the one hand the tattered remains of the damaged culture and morals of an ill continent which is desperately trying to survive the catastrophe of WWII and which has to build a new world out of the ruins of the old, and on the other, the winner from the other side of the Atlantic, convinced of the superiority of their society and eager to have the rest of the worlds march to their tune.

The question of the artist's political responsibility within a totalitarian regime remains open to this day - whether to stay and serve one's own people or to leave the homeland. While Arnold's investigation is aimed at providing proof for the prosecution of the way in which Furtwängler's artistic genius contributed to the Nazi propaganda machine and their destructive ideology, Furtwängler answers the Major's accusations by limiting his responsibility to purely artistic motives - he chose to stay in the fatherland to bring comfort to the German people with his music, and not to serve the Nazis. Like a master conductor, director orchestrates the debate from cat-and-mouse intensity to volcanic confrontation to an intriguing finale, making TAKING SIDES that rare film that demands the audience to engage in a dialogue with the characters and take a position on an issue: in this case, the complicity or innocence of Dr Wilhelm Furtwängler, the world-famous conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic during the Third Reich.