Veteran Hollywood producer John Daly (``The Terminator," ``Platoon," ``The Last Emperor") put on his director's hat for only the second time in his latest drama ``The Aryan Couple." Based on the results, let's hope he hangs up the hat.
The film's title refers to Hans and Ingrid Vassman (Kenny Doughty and Caroline Carver ), young newlyweds in 1944 Nazi Germany working as servants for Joseph Krauzenberg (Martin Landau ), a wealthy Jewish businessman, while secretly participating in a local resistance movement. When SS leader Heinrich Himmler cuts a deal with Krauzenberg allowing him and his family safe passage to Palestine in exchange for his vast fortune, the Vassmans, who are actually Jewish, find themselves in danger of being discovered by the Gestapo.
It's unfortunate to have to speak of ``Holocaust films" as a genre, but ``The Aryan Couple" gives us little choice, since it takes virtually all its cues from earlier, better films such as ``Schindler's List," ``Life Is Beautiful," and ``The Pianist." As in ``Schindler's List," which embodied all the Holocaust's brutality in a psychopathic prison camp commandant, ``The Aryan Couple" implicitly assigns blame for this massive social hysteria to ``a few bad apples": the leering, sneering Himmler, a blood-thirsty Adolph Eichmann, and other villainous Nazis. Daly must not have read Hannah Arendt's ``Eichmann in Jerusalem ," which portrays the architect of the Final Solution as a a bland, inoffensive bureaucrat -- hardly the character Daly depicts here.
Arendt described the banality of evil; Daly prefers the exceptionality of evil, which better fits his belief in the fundamental decency of humanity, a fact the Holocaust has caused less optimistic people to doubt. ``You're Germans and I'm a Jew, but more importantly we are all human," Krauzenberg says to the Vassman s at one point. That's easy to say, a cynic might remark, if you're wealthy enough to buy your way out of the gas chamber . Indeed, it's hard to muster the sympathy the film demands for Krauzenberg when you know that at the moment he's paying for his life, millions of less fortunate Jews, Russians, gypsies, and homosexuals are paying with theirs.
OK, so the film is morally confused; is it at least entertaining? No. ``Raiders of the Lost Ark" featured similarly villainous Nazis, but was one hell of an action film. Too little happens in the first two acts of ``The Aryan Couple" and too much happens in the interminable third act.
Despite its handsome photography and a few memorable performances, ``The Aryan Couple" is mainly notable for its inappropriate, blithe sentimentality. In another film this would be the usual Hollywood hokum. In a film about the most serious subject imaginable, it amounts to moral idiocy.