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Hungarian director István Szabó seldom travels far from the theme of his 1981 masterpiece, Mephisto: the responsibility of the individual (especially the artist) under an autocratic system (especially Nazism). Still, his latest film, Taking Sides, is both subtler and simpler than Mephisto. Subtler because its subject, renowned Berlin Philharmonic conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler (Stellan Skarsgård), doesn’t seem to have done anything more than coexist with the Nazis. Simpler because the movie is based on the play by The Pianist scripter Ronald Harwood, and is therefore essentially a series of dialogues between Furtwängler and his American interrogator, Maj. Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel). A former insurance man, Arnold intends to crack the conductor by treating him like any small-time chiseler. Furtwängler seems as shocked by Arnold’s impertinence as by the suggestion that he was a Nazi collaborator. (Arnold brusquely combines both affronts by calling the conductor “Hitler’s bandleader.”) Equally disturbed by the major’s methods are his two young associates, Lt. David Wills (Run Lola Run’s Moritz Bleibtreu) and Emmi Straube (Birgit Minichmayr). They have reason to hate the Nazis—Wills is a German-born Jew who fled to the United States, and Straube is the daughter of a officer executed for plotting against Hitler—but they consider Arnold’s style of questioning improper and disrespectful. One other viewpoint is expressed by Russian Gen. Oberst Dymshitz (Oleg Tabakov), who doesn’t care if Furtwängler was a Nazi, as long as he’ll conduct for the Soviets. Teutonic culture is exemplified by Beethoven, Bruckner, and Skarsgård’s quiet, occasionally flustered dignity; the United States has only “Route 66” and the abrasive Maj. Arnold, played stridently by Keitel. (It’s a dislikable performance, but more consistent than many of the actor’s recent turns.) As if worried that Furtwängler’s side of the argument is too appealing, Szabó interjects—not once but twice—documentary footage of emaciated corpses at Bergen-Belsen. That horror trumps any endorsement of German refinement, of course, but it seems extraneous to this earnest, well-made two-man show. —Mark Jenkins