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Jo Baier to Write, Direct Nazi War Criminal Thriller ‘Life Through a Dead Man’s Eyes’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Prolific German director Jo Baier has officially signed on to write and direct the thriller “Life Through a Dead Man’s Eyes,” about an aging Nazi war criminal on the run from prosecution.

The film, produced by Berlin-based Films In Motion in co-production with Banijay’s NL Film in Amsterdam, tells the haunting story of a former Nazi SS death camp guard who tries to evade prosecution by U.S. authorities. In the face of death, he finds himself falling ever deeper into a nightmare that exceeds his worst fears.

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“Life Through a Dead Man’s Eyes” is set to star Matthias Habich (“Narcissus and Goldmund”) as the former SS henchman and Herbert Knaup (“Sarah Kohr”) as the Nazi hunter on his trail. Also attached is Silke Bodenbender (“One Day We’ll Tell Each Other Everything”).

Speaking to Variety, Baier says the dark historical aspect of the tale in particular piqued his interest.

“I have always studied very intensely the period of National Socialism. Even to this day I can’t understand or comprehend what really occurred in Germany and to most of the Germans during that time. I have always dealt with injustices wanting to draw attention to the darkest hours with my films.”

Indeed, Baier has explored the Nazi era and the impact of the WWII in a number of films, among them 2002’s “Verlorenes Land” and 2006’s “Not All Were Murderers.”

German-American producer René Asch of Films In Motion, himself a Holocaust survivor, says the project serves as a further reminder of the threat that neo-Nazism still poses across Europe, where antisemitism and racial discrimination remain very real. The Holocaust did not happen all that long ago, he points out.

“It’s an important reason for me to make this film,” Asch explains. “There aren’t that many of us left.”

For Baier, “Life Through a Dead Man’s Eyes” poses the challenge of presenting a war criminal as the protagonist of a story.

“What interests me about this topic now is on the one hand the look, with similarities to Franz Kafka, and on the other hand, what happens to mighty people misusing their power once they are stripped of it? Are they simple human beings? Is the word ‘human’ still apt in this case?

“What is particularly interesting about our project is the return or the change from perpetrator to victim — without really feeling compassion for this victim. In it, we tell a nightmare that I’m sure an infinite number of people in concentration camps had before.”

He adds: “That the Holocaust and the concentration camp terror can be seen and told from a completely different perspective, exactly that is what is extraordinary and special about this material.”

Baier, whose previous credits also include the 2010 historical epic “Henry of Navarre,” is writing the script, based on an original idea by U.S. writer J. Frank James, and hopes to shoot the film as soon as possible. “Life Through a Dead Man’s Eyes” will likely film on location in Bavaria, with interior scenes slated to shoot in-studio in Amsterdam.

Asch is producing along with NL Film’s Alex Doff, who is serving as executive producer. Munich-based Morefilms is handling world sales for the film.

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