A low-budget independent film from Finland has become the talk of the prestigious Berlin Film Festival this year. Sigh, I hear you all say, what’s it about? Love? Politics? The unbearable lightness of being? Er, not quite.
Iron Sky imagines that, as World War 2 came to an end, a remnant Nazi government, using secret Nazi spaceships, escaped to the dark side of the moon. When in 2018 an American moon mission discovers a suspicious swastika-shaped compound on our nearest satellite, it sets off a series of events that leads to the invasion of Earth. Yes, that’s right. The film that has so absorbed the film-making elite in Berlin is about Space Nazis attacking Earth.
And Iron Sky truly has Berlin gripped in its iron fist. The film became one of the biggest hits of the festival, outsold only by Bollywood movie Don: The King is Back. Jolie and husband Brad Pitt are said to have caught a screening, and the film has been snapped up distribution in the UK, Germany and Israel.
Not a bad start for director, Timo Vuorensola, who divides his time between directing and singing in a heavy metal band, and for whom this is his first feature film. He cut his teeth on online Star Trek parodies, before starting production on Iron Sky back in 2006. An early internet teaser caught the attention of the online community, who helped supply funding. Armed with this, the production team were able to attract the attention of co-financiers 27 Film Productions (Germany) and New Holland Pictures (Australia), giving it some international clout and, crucially, extra funding (it ended up costing a mere $10 million, of which $1 million was raised online).
But what’s really causing a stir in Germany is the subject matter. Even almost 70 years after the end of World War 2, Nazi-themed comedy is still considered taboo in Germany. Wearing a Nazi uniform or giving a Nazi salute in Germany is illegal unless done for the purposes of art or performance, and films about Nazis have to be very careful in how they are depicted – it’s only a few years ago that Downfall, despite being much praised around the world, was criticised in Germany for ‘humanising’ Hitler.
In truth the Nazis in Iron Sky are comic-book affairs who are unlikely to keep anyone up at night – the worst parts of Nazi history, such as anti-semitism and the Holocaust have been largely excised, although one African-American character does find himself, eh, Aryanised. But this is part of what is bothering some German critics, who feel that it is still too soon to be making light of Nazi atrocities. Even lead actress Julie Dietze not only found it difficult to wear a Nazi uniform, but was troubled by a scene in which she teaches Nazi ideology to a class of school children. “I kept telling the children during the filming breaks, ‘It’s just play — please don’t believe it!’” she said at a press conference in Berlin.
In truth though, most people in Germany see Iron Sky for what Vuorensola meant it to be: “a stupid joke”. It seems many ordinary Germans are enjoying the chance to finally have a bit of harmless fun at National Socialism’s expense.
The key question though: is Iron Sky any good? Well, reviews have been mixed. The Independent called it ‘riotous and enjoyable’, while the Guardian called it ‘a giant damp squib’ that is ‘not nearly as funny or cruel as its killer premise suggests.’ Still, that won’t stop plenty of people (including me) lining up to see it when it opens here on April 4th.