For the 88th Oscar season, Germany submitted two films about its Nazi past for Best Foreign Language Film. Labyrinth of Lies, the much weaker film, was submitted. The other film, 13 Minutes, is finally getting a Toronto release.

Based on actual historical events, 13 Minutes tells the story of Georg Elser (Christian Friedel), who in November 1939 planted a bomb in a Munich building in which Adolf Hitler was giving a speech. The title refers to the fact that Hitler left the building 13 minutes before the bomb detonated.

The film opens with a frantic scene in which Elser, a young man who recently returned to his parents’ farm after his father’s illness, is attempting to plant a bomb. This scene, and the proceeding one of Elser attempting to sneak across the border into Switzerland, is edited into the scene of Hitler addressing the audience in the same building Elser has planted his bomb. As Elser is arrested by military police, the building is seen exploding. Elser is interrogated and tortured by the head of German police, Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaussner), and the Gestapo chief, Henrich Muller (Johann von Bulow). Despite the torture, Elser is initially silent and talks only to save his girlfriend, Elsa (Katharina Schüttler), a married woman who has also been arrested, from a terrible fate; subsequently, Elser admits to his scheme.

In terms of story and execution, 13 Minutes is a stronger story than Labyrinth of Lies, a movie that relied on Hollywood convention to tell us that the Nazis were bad. But 13 Minutes is more complex, relying on flashback scenes to explain Elser’s motives and convictions. As a young adult, Elser worked and frolicked in Switzerland, where he had friends and flings with young women. He worked in offices and played music in pubs and music halls on the weekends. And although he never joined the Communist Party, he had leftist sympathies, and his friends were much more ardent socialists. He also became infatuated with Elsa, a woman married to a drunkard ogre who frequently beats her. Elser, an idealist, became focused on saving Elsa, just as he attempts to do when goes home and works on the family farm when his father’s alcoholism becomes debilitating.

But the more complex structure doesn’t mean that it’s an in-depth exploration. In fact, it’s an interesting macro exploration of a little-known Hitler and Nazi resistance fighter who, had he succeeded, could have possibly shortened the Second World War by years. At times the film seems to attempt to portray Elser as a martyr; this comes through in a couple of moments, including a scene in which he pleads with the stenographer, who is seen earlier sitting in the hallway and listening to Elser’s screams during his initial torture. Another scene, in which Elser enters a tent in his parents’ rural village and watches in horror as the community cheers and salutes Hitler with zenith, is equally martyr building. These scenes don’t necessarily cheapen the film, but they’re at least as blatantly in your face as in the inferior Labyrinth of Lies.

The film ends with Elser’s demise. This review shouldn’t give away the tragic ending, but he didn’t survive the end of the war. And that’s too bad, because eventually, he was celebrated and honoured. Sadly, history is full of underappreciated heroes. And that’s a shame.