Taking Sides (2001)

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Tentatively Due Out for Sale 31-Oct-2003
Available for Rent

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 105:05 (Case: 111)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Istvan Szabo
Imagine Entertainment
Starring Harvey Keitel
Stellan Skarsgard
Moritz Bleibtreu
Birgit Minichmayr
Ulrich Tukur
Oleg Tabakov
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Was the great Berlin conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler (played here by Stellan Skarsgård) a heinous Nazi sympathiser or a naive slave to the great art of classical music? In Taking Sides, you are provided with the background to this charismatic and complicated character, but the viewer is ultimately left with the challenge of making that decision. Surely he was, and remains, a figure of controversy, revered by thousands and reviled by equal numbers. The setting for this adapted stage play is the crumpled and broken post war occupied Berlin. The Nuremberg trials have begun and the allies are charged with the responsibility of the "de-Nazification" of Germany. One of the allied interrogators is Major Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel), and he sets about interviewing every member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with each member twisting and writhing in an agony of self-mitigation and exoneration. But firmly in his sights is Furtwängler himself. Piece by piece, more information comes to light - some which apparently damns him, and some which shows him in a better light. So what to believe?

     History itself seems to have left many questions about Furtwängler and his wartime conduct. Unlike most artistic leaders of the era, he did not flee Nazi Germany, and indeed, played frequently to Hitler's rapt enjoyment. And yet, he managed to incur the ire of many of Hitler's top men: SS Chief Heinrich Himmler himself stated "there is no Jew, filthy as he may be, for whom Furtwängler does not stretch out a helping hand." Certainly, it appears historically clear, as well as thematically pertinent, that Furtwängler's rivalry with the younger conductor Herbert von Karajan was a political Achilles' heel by which the Nazi bigwigs were able to manipulate and thereby implicate the older musician.

     As previously discussed, Taking Sides had its origins as a stage play, and that legacy is plain to see, with proscenium staging applied to all the significant scenes, and external scenes provided mostly to provide colour and texture to the principal tension. Perhaps due to this staging choice, this is a "slow burn" film, with its dramatic breadth defined by individual performance rather than much physical action. However, the performances of Skarsgård and Keitel are faultless and whole, and they are ably supported by a small but very good cast, particularly Birgit Minichmayr as Emmi Straube.

     The sets are superb, the filming is taut and crisp and, although it will by no means be to everyone's taste, I found it an absorbing and challenging piece of drama.

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Transfer Quality


     Visually, this was a pleasure to watch. It was presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which was the original theatrical format, and was 16x9 enhanced.

     The DVD was crisp, sharp and cleanly presented throughout. The shadow detail was good and there was generally only very fine grain. There were a couple of occasions where there was a small loss of background detail, but never enough to distract or frustrate. Edges were sharp and clear with little evidence of edge enhancement and no halation present. There was no low level noise in this finely detailed print.

     The colour palette in this film was rich, warm and exquisite. Whilst much of the action was in subdued indoor light, there was a luminance that was visually satisfying. On the occasions where the action was outside, the palette and vistas took on the quality of a Boticelli fresco - with sumptuous tableaux rendered in warm, vivid colour.

     With the occasional exception of a minor amount of aliasing (for example, at 29:30), MPEG and film-to-video artefacts were at a minimum, and did not mar the enjoyment of this production.

     There were no subtitles available for this film.

     As a single sided, single layered disc, there was no layer change present.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     For a film like this in which music is a prominent feature, the sound had better be good. It is. Well, mostly. During the opening credits, there is an extended period of aural popping, which fortunately settles down before the film proper begins, and fortunately doesn't resurface anywhere else in the movie.

     The audio was presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and it was crisp, clean and well modulated throughout.

     Dialogue was clear and resonant over the course of the film and audio sync was excellent, with one curious exception at 29:19, where what we hear Emmi say and what we see her say are clearly not the same thing. It doesn't look so much a sync problem as a dubbing choice, but it passes quickly and doesn't disturb the overall atmosphere of the piece.

     And so we come to the music. In this film, music is literally another character in the piece, and, it could be argued, the main character, since its force is the subject of the conflict between the two protagonists. With inclusions of the 1st & 4th Movements of Beethoven's Symphony No.5 in C Minor; the 2nd Movement of Schubert's String Quartets in D, and even a smattering of Gershwin and Miller to firmly place this film on its timeline, the music is lush, lyrical and respectfully portrayed. To further emphasise the pre-eminent importance of the music, little background thematic music is used. It's a wonderful score, and apparently presents recordings conducted by Furtwängler himself.

     The use of both surround speakers and the subwoofer was absolutely perfect. The surround provided ambient depth without distraction, and the subwoofer provided strong tonal impact but did not dominate or intrude.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



     The menu is 16x9 enhanced and features clips and soundtrack from the film. It is clear and simple to navigate.

Theatrical Trailer

     This was of excellent quality, 16x9 enhanced and ran for 2:21 minutes.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     I could find no record of an R1 version of this disc, so it's local product all the way.


     The pace of this film and the lack of action is going to drive some viewers to their remote controls. But if you wish to enjoy a film where the conflict is contained in the agendas of the characters, then you're in for a treat. Historically accurate, sensitively filmed, superbly acted, and wonderfully transferred, this is a superlative piece of home cinema.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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