The Conference

The Conference
Original title:Die Wannseekonferenz
Director:Matti Geschonneck
Running time:108 minutes
Release date:Not communicated
On the morning of January 20, 1942, about fifteen dignitaries of the Third Reich meet in a villa in Wannsee, invited by Reinhard Heydrich to a mysterious conference. They discovered the reason for the conference at the last minute: these representatives of the Waffen SS or the Party, civil servants from the various ministries, emissaries from the conquered provinces, learned that they had to agree before noon on a plan to eliminate the Jewish people, called the Final Solution. For two hours, debates, maneuvers and power plays follow one another, around what will tip millions of destinies into tragedy.

Sabine's Review

By staging this fiction on the Wannsee conference, where the Final Solution was approved, director Matti Geschonneck wanted to make tangible the banality of evil in action. He succeeds thanks to a sober staging and talented actors. He signs a film that is essential to the duty of memory, which also makes us think about the mechanisms of dehumanization at work in current conflicts. 

January 1942, the conflict has become global, with the entry into the war of the Soviets and the Americans. The project of deporting the Jews from Europe evolved into a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question in Europe". In the conquered territories in the East, German units, such as the Einsatzgruppen, shot the Jewish population massively, men, women and children. A new generation of gas trucks was used. In December 1941, Hitler gave the order to exterminate the eleven million Jews present in the territories controlled by the Third Reich. The Wannsee Conference confirmed the implementation of the Final Solution. 

On January 20, 1942, SS General Reinhard Heydrich convened representatives of the SS, the ministries (Interior, Foreign Affairs, etc.) and the authorities of the occupied territories (Poland and the USSR), i.e. fifteen people, in a Berlin villa on the shores of Lake Wannsee. A secretary was in charge of transcribing the conference, under the supervision of Adolf Eichmann. This two-hour meeting, interspersed with interludes and snacks, aims to validate the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. 

The film focuses on the conference, from the arrival of the fifteen participants to their departure. As director Matti Geschonneck explains, the main character is the conference. The film is based on the only copy of Eichmann's minutes that were found after the end of the war. From the beginning, the director sets his conditions: respect for the unity of time and place, no music so as not to influence the viewer. The words then take on their full power. The exteriors are filmed at the Berlin villa in Wannsee. The interiors are reconstituted in the studio.

To make this dehumanization tangible, the director asks his actors to consider this conference as a simple business meeting. They are all perfectly believable in their parts as officers or ministry representatives. They exchange horrors in a courteous tone. They are young. Eichmann is 35. Heydrich, the SS general, is 37. The Conference is also a film about language. Technocratic speeches make murder banal. Humans become a "racial hygiene problem". They are "evacuated". The director's staging creates a striking contrast between this calm atmosphere and the terrifying reality behind these words. 

In the darkness of the cinema room, the spectator is thus immersed in this conference, which takes place almost in real time. He becomes the witness of these sordid discussions. What to do with the half-breeds, these half-Jews?  He witnesses abject negotiations. The Nazi governor in charge of Poland agrees to the Final Solution on the condition that the Jews in his territory are dealt with first. As the conference progressed, the horror of this extermination plan increased. The solution of the gas chamber was validated to preserve the German soldiers. The conference ends with the question of the report. It must be sufficiently explicit because these gentlemen must know what they have participated in. "They will not say that they did not know.  Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime in Europe.

The conference (Die Wannseekonferenz)
Directed by Matti Geschonneck
Produced by Friederich Oetker, Reinhold Elschot
Written by Magnus Vattrodt, Paul Mommertz
With Philipp Hochmair, Arnd Klawitter, Johannes Allmayer
Director of photography: Theo Bierkens
Editor: Dirk Grau              
Production companies: Constantin Television, ZDF
by Condor Distribution (France)
Release date: April 19, 2023 (France), 
Running time: 108 minutes

Seen on April 6, 2023 at the Marbeuf club

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