Updated: Jul 29, 2020
A devout Nazi oversees a group of taste testers for Hitler.
Making good use of his intensely scrutinous eye for human emotion, Justin Robinson creates a deeply intimate film about the nature of idolatry and how it strips away at self-worth. With themes like these in play, it makes perfect sense to set the film in Nazi Germany, in a regime that prides itself on superiority but simultaneously allows for even its most senior members to rely on a sense of self-worth no more powerful than the adulation or ire of the Führer.
German officer Fritz (Silvio Wolf Busch) oversees taste testing for Hitler in the wake of the announcement of his impending visit to Fritz’s facility, which involves shepherding women into eating potentially poisoned food in order to protect Hitler from assassination. Scenes in which Fritz “coaches” and “inspires” these trapped women into endangering their lives for the sake of no more of them than the food they are tasting plays disturbingly not because of Fritz’s menace but because of his earnestness in his belief that these women who have been forced into the role they now play are heroes. His genuine excitement at the horrifying actions the food tasters are being forced into and the degree to which he sees this as an opportunity for them illustrates a detachment from moral reality that is incredibly unsettling to watch.
Fritz is the unwitting antagonist to the film’s protagonist Anna (Stefanie Butler), whose quiet determination to not allow her life to be someone else’s to sacrifice or discard sets up a covert battle of wits between her and her captor. In classic storytelling form, the two characters are characteristic opposites. While Fritz’s entire sense of self-worth consists of the opinions of external forces, Anna has determined her self-worth in advance of this story. Fritz requires acknowledgement of his work and sacrifice in order to give any of it meaning. As a result, everything else, including people’s lives are meaningless. Anna, meanwhile, quietly demonstrates the value she places on her freedom. Setting herself up to fight for it while not letting on to her opponent that a fight is about to begin.
These stark moral absolutes are enhanced by the style that Robinson applies to the film. High contrast black and white not only illustrates the historical period storytelling but the opposite ends of the moral and psychological spectrum that Anna and Fritz occupy. The harsh light and deep shadows of the visuals create a tangible atmosphere where each character seems to exist inches from salvation but on the precipice of despair. As in his other films, Robinson does not hesitate to get deep into the faces of our characters burying us deep into their mind’s eye.
The visual style is stewarded by the fantastic photography of Brent Christy, who plays with light and darkness as if tangibly moulding it. Additionally, the astounding score of Kyle McCuiston has the kind of power and vehemence that pushes it to levels bordering on John Williams-esque. Despite only having a few locations, only one of which is an exterior, there is something decidedly cinematic about this film. The aesthetic, along with the sound mix as well as the score, demand a viewing on the biggest screen and best sound system you can find.
Authenticity is added in both broad strokes, such as all of the dialogue being in German and in tiny details in prop, costume and set design. All of this is in addition to the ever-watchful eye of Hitler himself encapsulated in a painted portrait that hangs in each scene like a spectre. As a film that invests in character-driven psychological battles between the oppressed and the oppressor, Guest of Honor is relentlessly immersive and utterly captivating.
Studio: Justin Robinson | Year: 2019 | Genre: Drama/Thriller | Duration: 10 Mins | Suitability: Mature
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