Stauffenberg (2004 Germany) and Valkyrie (2008 – US) Compared

After having watched the excellent Valkyrie (here is my review), starring Tom Cruise, I wanted to see how the Germans had treated the very same story just a few years prior to the US production. Stauffenberg is a TV production, starring Sebastian Koch (Black Book, Das Leben der Anderen) as Stauffenberg. Ulrich Tukur (Das Leben der Anderen, The White Ribbon) can be seen in the role of Henning von Tresckow. While Carice van Houten who played Stauffenberg’s wife in Valkyrie looks very different from the real Nina von Stauffenberg, Nina Kunzendorf’s likeness is uncanny.

I don’t think it’s of any use to summarize the movie. Since it’s a true story the plots of the two films are almost identical, however there are some significant differences in the way the story is told which make it worthwhile to compare the two movies.

The title Stauffenberg already indicates that the focus is much less on Operation Valkyrie than on the man Stauffenberg himself. And that’s actually the biggest problem of this TV production. It is quite confusing and for someone not familiar with the story, it isn’t clear what Operation Valkyrie is. I was glad I had seen the US film first or I would have been a bit lost as I wasn’t familiar with the whole story.

While Valkyrie starts with Stauffenberg in Africa, it starts much earlier in this film. We see Stauffenberg first in Berlin, whit his fiancée and future wife Nina, later he is in Poland and only then in Africa. This helps to understand his motivations and his development from someone who believed in Hitler to somebody who was entirely disgusted and ready to kill the man.

What worked far better in this TV production is to make us understand why the assassination failed. The characters in this film are portrayed as determined but they are no sleek robots. There are many mishaps and they are far from perfect. We even get the impression that they were a bit too hasty and that the whole project would have needed more planning. In Valkyrie we don’t really understand why it doesn’t work. Everything seemed so perfect.

What also worked far better here is the human and emotional dimension. These people are scared. They are determined but anxious as well and when they are caught, things do not go well. One of them isn’t even capable of shooting himself, he misses first, tries again, ends up badly wounded and has then to be shot by someone else while in Valkyrie he puts the gun to his head, shoots and is dead right away.

While far from perfect and not as carefully – and one would argue artificially -orchestrated as Valkyrie, Stauffenberg feels emotionally true and is very watchable. If you didn’t like Tom Cruise you might even prefer this smaller scale production.


18 thoughts on “Stauffenberg (2004 Germany) and Valkyrie (2008 – US) Compared

  1. nem baj says:

    Nice follow-up!

    In the movie clip, they attend a performance of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg… but Claus von Stauffenberg didn’t like Wagner at all (and actually Hitler wasn’t a big fan either). I’m still surprised, why would a German director make such a mistake?

    • I think it was an attempt at hinting at the name of Operation Valkyrie. It’s one of those elements I found confusing because unless you know you wouldn’t get it. The operation as such is mentioned only very briefly later on. To be honest it is entirely new to me that Hitler wasn’t a Wagner fan? It’s one of the reasons why Wagner isn’t appreciated anymore because his name is tied to Nazism and in extension to Hitler.

      • nem baj says:

        The same confusion is made in the 2008 movie, but you’re right, it’s probably for the same scriptwriting purposes… Actually, the Wagner lover in the Stauffenberg family was the elder brother,

        About Der Führer: you’re right again, I made a mistake in writing ‘not a fan’, for actually, he was precisely what we would call… a fan.

        What I meant was this: it’s one thing to assess Hitler’s political declarations about Wagner’s operas, and the Wagnerian cult he funded with the composer’s family. But it’s another thing to notice that he actually opposed all evolution in the staging and directing of the works, endorsed the banning of Parsifal all through the war, and has been reported so many times listening to… Franz Lehar’s operettas.

        So indeed, the political use of Wagner’s music after the war was, and still is, unthinkable. It took quite a while for Bayreuth to recover from the abuse, and it is understandable that his works are still barred from public performance in Israël (apart from the nazi expoitation, the composer was certainly an ultra-nationalist and an antisemite), exception made for the Barenboïm concert in 2001.

        However through the years a line was drawn, and the music itself is now probably more appreciated than it ever was. For what it is: music. Performances everywhere are crowded, and you’ll find a Wagner recording in every bestsellers list…

      • There is always this discussion whether a work of art, novels, etc can or should be appreciated irrespective of their creators. I’m thinking of Céline as a prominent example. I have a hard time not to like him as an author but his political views were highly problematic and mayn do not read him anymore.

    • nem baj says:

      Richard Wagner died 50 years before the nazis took power.

      • nem baj says:

        Which incidentally reminds me of István Szabó’s Taking Sides (2001), which deals with the U.S. de-nazification proceedings against superstar orchestra conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. Not Szabó’s best, yet a solid exploration of the complexities of the relationship beetween the arts, the artists, and cultural policy in times like these.

        The German secretary of the U.S. investigator is allegedly the daughter of an officer involved in the July 44 plot, which makes for a comical effect at the beginning of the movie, as every interviewed orchestra member feels the urge to salute the memory of her late father as soon as they learn who she is.

        PS: no Wagner in the soundtrack here, but the two other ‘official composers’ of the Reich (Beethoven and Brückner), plus Schubert.

      • I reviewed that a while back. I quite liked it.

      • Not exactly sure why you wrote that. We can have a problem with anti-Semites even if they died long before WWII.

      • nem baj says:

        So Martin Luther and Wolfgang von Goethe shouldn’t be read anymore? 😉

        Tastes apart, in the history of European music (as we know it today) there is a before- and an after-Wagner. Which is why his music can’t be overlooked or simply put on a shelf.

        And since this blog deals with cinema, it’s hard not to acknowledge that so many great film composers were influenced by Wagner, starting with Max Steiner, Franz Waxman or Bernard Herrmann. Actually, it can easily be sustained that the revolution of the musical narrative operated by Wagner is the foundation upon which most original film scores are based. Think of the leitmotiv, of the first-person expression of a character’s feelings…

        So, sure, anti-jewish in his time. And posthumously, a nazi icon. Should we leave him to the nostalgics of the Third Reich, then? I personally don’t intend to.

      • I even own a recording of Der Ring des Niebelungen conducted by Furtwängler… Guess that’s my answer. 🙂 Imagine Apocalypse Now without Wagner.
        I just wanted to say that there is a debate and some would not listen to certain composers or read certain books.
        Thanks for the clip.

      • nem baj says:

        Sure. But this cliché “Wagner = Nazi” doesn’t help to encompass either term of the equation!

        Btw Coppola is definitely (to me) an American filmmaker; his references are almost never European, so my guess is that the use of the ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now isn’t related to nazism, but to Griffith’s (in)famous cavalry charge of the klansmen in Birth of a Nation.

      • I never assumed Coppola ahd any such inclinations, I mentioned it as an illustration how important his music is, whether referenced or used as such.
        His use of Wagner was it what made made me think of Apocalypse Now as problematic for a long time. I was never sure whether he didn’t glorify it all. Meanwhile I’ve watched it again and I don’t think so at all.

      • nem baj says:

        Coppola’s use of the music is obviously satirical, as is the whole scene… but yes, it seems that some audiences even claim it for themselves at face value. Is it in JarHead that young U.S. recruits in Iraq cheerfully sing along the projection?

        Now, not many people have seen Birth of a Nation. And certainly, even among regular filmgoers, less today than in 1979. The thing is, if you miss the Griffith connection, possibly due to the pervasive nazi cliché about Wagner it can be seen to be related to the Wehrmacht military reputation, in a sort of ‘positive’ way… 😦

        On the other hand, there’s a clear element of fascination for war as a mystical experience in Apocalypse now, so it’s hard to blame the viewers who detect this fascination here. A Woody Allen paraphrase comes to mind!

      • The first time I saw it, I was 18 and it was in a Panoramic cinema in Paris I rather felt he somehow wanted to tell us war had an intoxicating quality. I was really put off by it and thought that it could even be a dangerous movie. But as I said when I rewatched it recently I felt very differently about it.

  2. the war movie buff says:

    Good review. I was not familiar with this production. Sounds like a good companion to Valkyrie.

  3. Björn says:

    I made a similar review a while ago, and found “Valkyrie” to be better paced, less confusing, and more suspenseful. “Stauffenberg” has a few historical inaccuracies that detracts from it, too.

    • No doubt about Valkyrie being better constructed and if I hadn’t seen it before I would occasionally have been lost. I just thought Stauffenberg showed better why they failed and how nervous they were. The characters were not so slick.
      You write your reviews in Swedish, right? Too bad. my Swedish is near to nonexistent.

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