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TAKING SIDES is the real-life story of Dr Wilhelm Furtwängler (Stellan Skarsgård), Germany’s leading conductor and head of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra during the Second World War. In his civilian guise, Major Steve Arnold of the US Army (Harvey Keitel) is an insurance salesman. Following the fall of the Third Reich he is given the task of establishing links between Furtwängler and key figures in the Nazi regime, including Hitler himself. Major Arnold’s commanding officer wants ‘proof’ that the conductor collaborated with the Nazis.
Furtwängler is first seen in flashback, conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to an audience of senior party members as the bombs fall around the concert hall and air raid sirens screech outside. Whilst the audience and orchestra are distracted by the unsettling external factors, Furtwängler is engrossed in the music and unaware of anything else.
Arnold is provided with two assistants to help him in his investigation. The first, Emmi Straube (Birgit Minichmayr), is the daughter of a senior Nazi general who was executed for plotting Hitler’s assassination. Working alongside her is Lieutenant David Wills (Moritz Bleibtreu), a German Jew who was sent to the US by his parents at the start of the war, only to return at the end of hostilities as a member of the US army. Arnold questions members of the orchestra one by one, hoping to find evidence of Furtwängler’s close relationship with ‘Adolf,’ as he calls him. What he finds is a group of men united in their respect for the conductor.
When it is time to question Furtwängler, Arnold keeps him waiting and is then unspeakably rude to the conductor, belittling him by referring to him as a ‘bandleader’. When there are found to be links between the second violinist, Helmut Roder (Ulrich Tukur), and Hinkel, an art archivist who kept records on all the artists of the day and their links to the Nazis, Arnold realises that he has the means to nail Furtwängler. By threatening to expose Roder as a member of the Nazi party, Arnold gets him to reveal vital information about the conductor. Keen to save his neck and his livelihood the violinist erroneously tells Arnold that Furtwängler once sent Hitler a telegram for his birthday.
Whilst working for Arnold, Emmi and David have formed a close friendship and are united in their distaste for the Major’s treatment of Furtwängler. When his questioning of the conductor goes too far, David intercedes on his behalf. As Furtwängler leaves the room, an apparently broken man, Emmi tells Arnold that she has been questioned in a similar way – by the Gestapo – before resigning. When he shows her reels of dead Jews in a Belsen she is horrified but tries to explain that they - the Germans – didn’t know what was happening at the time. David convinces her to return to her job and between them they provide a quiet but powerful opposition to Arnold’s rough and bile-fuelled attack on Furtwängler.
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