Mr Emmanuel (1944) | UKJFF 2017

November 1st, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Harold French | Cast: Felix Aylmer, Greta Gynt, Walter Rilla, Peter Mullins; UK 1944 | 97′

Director Harold French, mostly remembered for his atmospheric Simenon adaption The Man who watched the Trains Go By, has directed Louis Golding’s script with a subtle passion dominated by Otto Heller’s grainy the black and white images.

Set in 1936, Mr. Isaac Emmanuel (Aylmer) a widower, has worked all his life for the Jewish Welfare Board and is now all set to emigrate to Palestine. But in the seaside village where he visits German Jewish evacuees, he meets young Bruno (Mullins), who has not heard from his mother for a long time. The boy is so distraught, that he tries to commit suicide. To reassure him, Mr. Emmanuel travels to Germany Bruno’s mother.

What started as a tender story of a man with a mission, soon escalates into a harrowing morality play. In Berlin, Emmanuel lives in a guesthouse where everybody is Jewish. From the window of his room he sees a neon sign on a theatre advertising a singer he once looked after as a child, back in England, Elsie Silver (Gynt). Emmanuel goes to see her after a concert but her German boyfriend, a high-ranking Nazi Willi Brockenburg (Rilla), is unwilling to let her meet him. Later at a party in the presence of Himmler and Goering, a Nazi functionary is shot dead. Somehow the Gestapo links Emmanuel with the assassination, and confines him. The surprise ending is rather stunning. But like Mr. Immanuel, who does not want to break his promise to Bruno, other Jews in Germany are also put into a moral quandary. Elsie uses Brockenburg, who is besotted with her, to help Emmanuel, whilst Bruno’s mother lives with a Nazi, who offers her a cruel choice.

Aylmer is very convincing, whilst Gynt, a Norwegian actress, plays Elsie Silver with a panache and verve, reminding us of Carole Lombard’s Maria Tura in Lubitsch To Be or not to Be. DoP Heller shows that Berlin is a just a prison, particularly compared with England’s peaceful small town life. Mr. Emmanuel is a gem: it is not only about the evils of fascism, but how the victims of the Nazis cope when their lives are under threat. AS


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