Taking Sides

Book adaptation/Drama, Austria/United Kingdom 2002

Wilhelm Furtwängler (Stellan Skarsgard), arguably the most distinguished conductor of his generation, is forced to face the American Denazification Committee. Although he is acquitted of all charges, his name remains tainted by association. After Hitler took power in 1933, many Jewish artists were forced to leave Germany. Others went voluntarily into exile in protest. Furtwängler chose to stay. While helping to secure safe haven for many Jewish musicians, at the same time he served as one of the Nazi`s foremost cultural assets. 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. "An uncomfortable film for all sides, for the followers and opportunists, the avengers and the judges, the moralists and the thick-skinned, those who took part and those born after. Director István Szabó and an excellent ensemble of actors use almost the sole means of a chamber drama to reveal the entire problem of followers in the Nazi state in a multifaceted and extremely nuanced way based on the case of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. For the American Major Steve Arnold (excellently played by Harvey Keitel), the conductor was "a bandleader who sold himself to the devil... the best advertising slogan of the Nazis". Furtwängler himself and his advocates tried to make a distinction between culture and barbarism, between spirit and power. "I was naïve to a high degree", Furtwängler finally confesses under the degrading pressure of the interrogations, which - according to both of the Major's employees - resembled those of the Gestapo. This is said by one of the "shining lights" in the film, the secretary Emmi Straube (Birgit Minichmayr), whose father gave his life in the resistance against Hitler. But he only decided to resist, the daughter reveals, when the military saw that the war was lost. The film often uses such nuances; simple answers or simple judgments are not its thing. Developed from a play, it also speaks with looks and gestures. The sets, lighting and camera operate at the highest level of cinematic artistry, but never become an end in themselves. Can culture be innocent and can it remain so? Is it permissible to conduct for Hitler? Does music become fascist when it is played on the radio at Hitler's death, such as the Adagio from Bruckner's 7th? How many and what compromises can and must an artist make with power for the sake of his art? This intense and intelligent film does not provide simple answers, and that is its strength!" (Jury statement on the FBW's "particularly valuable" rating)
106 min
Starting at 12
Audio language:


International Film Festival de Mar del Plata Best Actor Stellan Skarsgård
International Film Festival de Mar del Plata Best Director Istvan Szabo

More information


István Szabó


Ronald Harwood (Stage Play "Taking Sides")

Sound Design:

Brian Simmons


Yves Pasquier


Moritz Bleibtreu (David Wills)

Ulrich Tukur (Helmut Rode)

Birgit Minichmayr (Emmi Straube)

Stellan Skarsgård (Wilhelm Furtwängler)

Hanns Zischler (Rudolf Werner)

Harvey Keitel (Steve Arnold)

Oleg Tabakov (Colonel Dymshitz)

Armin Rohde (Schlee)

Original title:

Taking Sides

Original language:



16:9 HD, Color with partial B/W


FBW "besonders wertvoll"

Age rating:

Starting at 12

Audio language:




Subtitles (SDH):