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The Harmonists tells the amazing true story of a six-man German singing group -- half of them Jews -- whose wit and music delighted all of Germany from 1927 to 1934. 

Filmed in German with English subtitles, The Harmonists begins in 1927, when Harry Frommermann (Ulrich Noethen), a Roberto Benigni look-alike, returns from another unsuccessful audition. A struggling actor with a gift for arranging and singing, Frommermann dreams of leading his own group of a cappella singers.  

Deciding to make his dream a reality, he holds auditions of his own. After a long line of hopeful failures, blond bass singer Robert Biberti (Ben Becker) bursts into Frommermann's life. Biberti introduces Frommermann to a pianist and other talented singers, and after an endless series of rehearsals, the group takes off. 

Director Joseph Vilsmaier chronicles the Harmonists' rise against the backdrop of emerging anti-Semitism. "Brown Shirts" deface shops and taunt Jews, and the threat of violence hangs over Berlin. The Nazis advise Frommermann and Biberti that the make-up of their group makes them unacceptable to Nazism. 

A concert tour to New York forces the group to confront the issues facing Germany and themselves. Do they want to return to their homeland? Can they leave their loved ones behind? What does it mean to be a German? The group returns to Germany, only to be told that their next concert will be their last. 

In an ensemble piece characterized by strong acting, the performances of Noethen and Biberti stand out. As the Jewish Frommermann, Noethen perfectly embodies the buffoonish nature of this musical fox. And as Biberti, Becker portrays heartbreakingly well the confusion a good man faces when he knows his beloved country is doing wrong. The debate between Frommerman and Biberti over love of country stays with you long after the credits roll.  

The Harmonists looks and sounds beautiful. But the beauty of German art cannot mitigate the horror of Hitler. The Harmonists depicts the sharp irony of a group of Jews and non-Jews harmoniously working and living together in the face of the growing Nazi menace. How could Nazism take hold under these conditions? How could man turn against his fellow man? Unfortunately, the answers to those questions still elude us.  

Joan Fuchsman

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