The year is 1932, the place is Poland and a small village where the Jewish blacksmith Zishe Breitbart (Jouko Ahola) lives and works with his father, mother and younger siblings. Today he decides, as he has a bit of spare cash, to treat his beloved brother Benjamin (Jacob Wein) to a meal in a restaurant, or the closest this area gets to a restaurant in any case, but while they are sitting waiting to be served they are noticed by a gang of rowdies sitting behind them. Zishe politely answers their questions, but things get out of hand when they start being anti-Semitic and he thrashes them in a fit of anger. Not something he's proud of, but his strength does get the attentions of a local agent...
Not a government agent, but a theatrical agent who once he sees Zishe beat a circus strongman after the tavern owner demands he try to win him the cost of repairs to his establishment, invites him to Berlin and a chance at fame and fortune. Invincible was Werner Herzog's first fictional film since Scream of Stone ten years before, and a measure of anticipation followed his return to the form, that was until most of them actually saw it and judged it something of a letdown. Had Herzog lost his touch with fiction? This was not wholly fictional, of course, as it was based on a true story, but the director had chosen his cast through their skills other than acting, so for example Zishe was played by actual World's Strongest Man winner (twice!) Ahola in a role that saw him convincingly lift enormous weights to impressive effect.
What he could not do to impressive effect was deliver a line of dialogue, and there's something about the cast of mostly non-professionals parading in front of us, often not in their native language, that is extremely redolent of amateur hour. Only two actors emerge with their credibility intact, one is Tim Roth playing real life mesmerist Erik Jan Hanussen, a fine performance of tightly contained fury, and the other in a smaller part was Udo Kier as a Count in Hanussen's orbit who works wonders with the short scenes he is offered. But you could regard this as a children's fable, as after all the opening sees Benjamin telling Zishe a fairy tale which sets the scene for a similarly hard to believe if it were not true narrative; there's little here that would trouble a child's mind as everything is marked out quite clearly.
So it could be that a sense of innocence the main strongman character embodies is the way to approach the whole story, with Nazis being the bad guys and the Jews being the good, but Herzog is interested in the fact that there was a blurring of the lines between them in the person of Hanussen, who hid a secret from his adoring, fascist public. When Zishe appears on the scene, he adopts the persona of Samson, the Jewish he-man of the Bible, and he will meet his match in an equivalent manner, brought down by a simple occurence that nobody could have forseen arriving. But he also gives lie to the Nazi view of the Jews being a weak race, as he is a superman of his own kind, and although he did not live to tackle the enemies of his people in the upcoming Second World War, he did his bit to bring them down a peg or two and expose the dark farce that their ideology represented. It's a nice idea for a film, especially one made by Germans, but for some reason never reaches its full power, unlike its hero. Music by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt.
Eccentric German writer/director known equally for his brilliant visionary style and tortuous filming techniques. After several years struggling financially to launch himself as a filmmaker, Herzog began his career with the wartime drama Lebenszeichen and surreal comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. But it was the stunning 1972 jungle adventure Aguirre, Wrath of God that brought him international acclaim and began his tempestuous working relationship with Klaus Kinski. The 1975 period fable Heart of Glass featured an almost entirely hypnotised cast, while other Herzog classics from this era include Stroszek, the gothic horror Nosferatu the Vampyre and the spectacular, notoriously expensive epic Fitzcarraldo.