Midway through Austro-Brazilian director Vicente Amorim’s fascist parable Good, as student radicals burn books in his university’s courtyard, Professor John Halder half-jokingly scoffs at his own literary ambitions, fearing that his novel-writing effort is merely “adding to the pile.” Halder, a professor of literature in 1930s Germany, can’t so much as get through a Proust lecture without the interruption of loud Nazi rallies outside the classroom (or indeed censures from the dean for teaching a Frenchman).
But Halder is as yet unable to see the irony in his complaint: frustrated at his literary impotence, pondering what lasting contribution he might make to the world of art, he ignores the dangers of what’s going on around him. Crucially, he fails to foresee that books are not the only things that his countrymen will be piling in mounds and incinerating.
Sympathy for the devil is a common theme in the recent crop of Nazi and Holocaust films, with Kate Winslet and Tom Cruise both imbuing varying degrees of good will in their goose-stepping characters. In Good, Viggo Mortensen plays convincingly against type as the passive, bookish Halder, the kind of a spineless, floppy-haired and soft-spoken character once reserved for Julian Sands.