Austrian film director Walter Bannert got the inspiration for The Inheritors in a particularly brutal way: he was sitting in a Vienna café in 1979 when a gang of neo-Nazi youths smashed up the restaurant and assaulted many of its patrons—including Bannert. The incident led him to spend three years researching the neo-Nazi movement in West Germany and Austria. Ingratiating himself with its leaders, he attended party rallies and gained access to secret militia camps. He used that research to make The Inheritors with characters who, he says, “are all identical to people I found in the neo-Nazi camps.” As a cautionary tale, the film is a reminder of the real danger of disillusioned youths reviving nazism. But as a drama it is crudely fashioned, confusing and—considering its basis in fact—strangely lacking in credibility.
The story concerns two teenage rebels: upper-class Thomas, who hates his domineering mother, and lower-class Charly, who endures a cruel and alcoholic father. The youths meet when Thomas (Nikolas Vogel) helps Charly (Roger Schauer), who has just stolen a motorcycle, evade police. Charly then takes Thomas to a youth club sponsored by the local neo-Nazi party. It is a world of black leather jackets, beer and easy sex—a girl scarcely whimpers when Charly beats up her boyfriend and hauls her into a back room for intercourse. Suitably impressed, Thomas joins the group and is seduced by its symbols, rituals and weapons. But Bannert overplays the seduction metaphor: a lyrical love scene between Thomas and a non-Nazi girl seems jarringly out of place.
What partly redeems The Inheritors is its insight into Europe’s neo-Nazi organizations. However, transforming truth into fiction involves a delicate alchemy: ingredients of raw fact that might make for an effective documentary can spoil the chemistry and credibility of drama. The film’s characters tend to be stiff stereotypes. That may make them utterly authentic as neoNazis, but under Bannert’s heavyhanded direction it is unclear whether they are victims of the party—or simply of the film-making process itself.
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