Today marks the 43rd birthday of the incredibly talented Spanish-German actor Daniel César Martín Brühl González Domingo, a man that has left an international mark on the worldwide film industry thanks to his vast skillset, multilingual talents, and overall commitment and dedication to his craft.
Touting a lengthy filmography that dates back to the mid 90s, Brühl hit his stride on his rise to fame with the 2003 German film Good Bye, Lenin!. He later began to garner the attention of mainstream U.S. audiences with roles in films like Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Rush (2013). Since then, Brühl has gone on to star in an assortment of films from various countries in multiple languages, truly establishing himself as — undoubtedly — one of the most versatile actors in the business right now. Most recently, he made waves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he reprised his role as Baron Helmut Zemo in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
In celebration of Brühl’s birthday, join me in taking a look back on some of the best, the most meaningful, the funniest, and the most unforgettable film and television moments of his career thus far — both large and small.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Failure is but a matter of perspective.
When Brühl made his entrance as Helmut Zemo — a far different take on his comic counterpart — it quickly became apparently that he would prove to be one of the most interesting and compelling villains that the MCU has ever seen. What he lacks in superpowers, he makes up for with his wit, determination, and tactical training. Civil War leads viewers to question what Zemo’s intentions are as he orchestrates each step of his plan throughout the film, making for a surprising moment when it’s revealed that he destroyed all of the remaining Winter Soldier subjects (rather than utilizing them). Instead, his ultimate plan was to tear the Avengers apart from the inside out in retaliation for the destruction of Sokovia and the loss of his family. The idea that a simple man without any otherworldly powers could singlehandedly destroy the Avengers from the inside out may have seemed preposterous before the film … but it worked.
As the film comes to a close and Zemo is taken into custody, Agent Ross stands outside of the container that he’s been placed inside of and smugly says, “So how does it feel? To spend all that time, all that effort … to see it fail so spectacularly?” Zemo glances up at him, and the stoic expression on his face shows a flicker of a smile as he calmly replies, “Did it?” This ominous scene serves as an ironic punchline to the film itself, because we all know just how bleak things end up for the Avengers in Infinity War and Endgame.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (2021)
Zemo destroys the remaining Super Soldier serum … and makes some other choices along the way.
Zemo had quite a few exceptional moments throughout the course of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, the series that saw the epic team up of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, but one in particular stood out amongst the rest. In the fourth episode, Zemo chases down Karli, and there’s a point where she drops all of the remaining vials of the Super Soldier serum. Zemo doesn’t hesitate to immediately begin smashing them, despite the fact that keeping them for himself could give him leverage in various places, especially as a man on the run after a prison break.
Even considering all of his wrongdoings, Zemo is ultimately a man that will live and die by his word, and he remains committed to his beliefs. In this particular circumstance, his sole goal (after killing Dr. Nagel) is to destroy the serum and prevent the creation of any more Super Soldiers (because he believes they shouldn’t exist). This scene plays well alongside two other moments, the first being when John Walker is presented as a stark contrast to him, pocketing the last remaining vial so that he can ultimately juice himself up. The other is in episode 5, when Zemo essentially admits that Bucky is now his exception — alongside Steve Rogers — to his great big plans to eradicate the world of Super Soldiers. Now that’s growth.
The Alienist (2018)
Laszlo finally confronts his father.
Throughout the course of the first season of The Alienist, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his colleagues find themselves caught up in a murder case with an elusive suspect. Right off the bat, Laszlo is a compelling and mysterious character, and there’s an irony in how much of himself he keeps hidden despite his quest to unveil the psychological inner workings and motivations of others. At one point, Sara Howard attempts to turn the tables on Laszlo as she demands to know why he’s been lying about the true nature of what happened to his arm, and he reacts in anger.
In the season finale, we’re met with a Laszlo who’s devastated over the loss of Mary and also defeated over not having been given the chance to study Japeth before he was killed. A visit from Sara leads to a heavy moment of shared truths, and he admits that his father fractured his arm when he was just a child. At the end of the episode, Laszlo finally pays his father a visit. Though it’s a one-sided conversation, his aging father staring off into the distance silently, it’s an incredibly important moment of growth for Laszlo.
“I don’t really know why I came. Maybe because now I’m free to speak my mind. I’ve always blamed my failings as an adult on what you did to me as a child. Those failings were my own. I remember something you once said to me, ‘Nature never allows a man to be more than he is, only less.’ For years, I believed those words reflected your own bitterness and failure. But now I understand they were for my benefit. You were simply preparing me for what you knew would be a lifetime of disappointment and pain. But you were wrong. I know that now. I still believe we can be better than nature intended, even if you can’t. You did the best you could.”
Niki Lauda’s comeback at the Italian Grand Prix.
Rush is a biographical sports film that focuses on the fierce rivalry between Formula One drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. After Lauda’s fiery, near-fatal accident at the German Grand Prix, he spent six weeks recovering from the traumatic event. Knowing that Hunt was dominating the races in his absence, and despite his doctor’s orders, Lauda made his triumphant return at the Italian Grand Prix. The film gives a first person perspective on Lauda’s new racing challenges as a result of his injures, showing how his vision has been affected by the damage to his tear ducts. He appears to be overwhelmed as the race gets going, with cars passing him left and right. Lauda pushes on though, even after a narrow miss with a dangerous collision that happens right in front of his car.
Ultimately, as the race comes to a close, Lauda finds his confidence and stride once more and ends up coming in fourth place. The crowd rushes to his side after he crosses the finish line, lifting him up and cheering him on. For a man that nearly died on the track less than two months earlier, with a head still covered in bandages, Lauda’s comeback was impressive and inspiring both in the film and in real life.
Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)
Alex and Denis’ fake news extravaganza.
Set against the backdrop of East Germany in 1989, Good Bye, Lenin! follows the story of a passionate socialist woman, Christiane, who falls into a coma just before the November revolution. When she wakes up eight months later, she has no idea that the Berlin Wall no longer stands, and her doting son Alex must do everything in his power to keep her in the dark (because another heart attack would certainly kill her).
Alex embarks on a complicated quest of deception as he tries to hide the sweeping societal changes that have occurred from his mother, like retrieving all of their old furniture and dumpster diving to find old containers to repackage the new Western food items. However, the most wild part of the scheme is when Alex and his friend Denis team up to create a series of fake news broadcasts to explain things like the giant Coca-Cola banner hung up on a building outside of Christiane’s bedroom window. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but it’s downright brilliant.
Ein Freund von mir (2006)
Karl lets loose and gets naked. Literally.
Ein Freund von mir (A Friend of Mine) is about an insurance executive, Karl, who’s given a covert assignment by his boss to spy on a questionable car rental service. In the process, the introverted and quiet Karl finds himself tumbling into an unwanted friendship with his hyperactive, free-spirited co-worker Hans. Despite Karl’s resistance, Hans continues to lay the groundwork for the friendship, insisting they talk and spend time together.
Karl slowly begins to loosen up and have fun with Hans, which becomes increasingly apparent one evening when they’re delivering two sports cars. They end up racing down the highway, completely naked, and a newfound sense of freedom and adventure is plainly written across Karl’s face in that moment as he’s finally beginning to understand that it’s okay to let go. What follows is an equally amusing and fitting scene, as they arrive at the airport (still very much naked) and Hans steals his clothes. And thus Karl is forced wear Hans’ clothes instead, now both figuratively and literally having stepped into his friend’s shoes for the evening.
When Alex asks Eva, “What do you see when you close your eyes?”
Set in the year 2043, Eva tells the story of Alex Garel, a renowned cybernetic engineer that returns to his hometown to finish an advantageous project to create a robot that looks like a child. Throughout the course of the film, Alex must simultaneously battle the feelings that resurface for his ex-lover, Lana (who’s now married to his brother), while he works. When he finds the perfect model for his project, Eva, she ironically ends up being Lana and David’s daughter.
The film’s big twist comes into play twofold: first, when Alex is led to believe that Eva is actually his daughter and then when the charade falls apart, and he learns that Eva is actually a robot. Lana finished the project after he left. Eva is a beautifully brilliant film full of emotions, but the heartbreaking scene at the end is the one that truly drives it all home. With Lana dead, Alex has no other choice but to decommission Eva by uttering the kill phrase to her, though it clearly hurts him terribly to do so. Eva is more human than ever in her final moments, a scene which is then followed by a poignant visualization of her dying dream: her, Lana, and Alex on a beach together.
The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
Schmidt and Ava successfully get back to their universe, activate the Shepard, and finally head back to Earth.
The Cloverfield Paradox follows an international group of astronauts who are on a mission to solve Earth’s energy crisis. The final moments of the film find the crew whittled down to just Ava, the communications officer, and Schmidt, the physicist. After two years of unsuccessful attempts to activate the Shepard particle accelerator, followed by a disturbing and violent series of events resulting in the loss of all of their other team members, the pain, trauma, and exhaustion is clearly written on both of their faces. And while Ava dealt with her own issues during all of this, Schmidt was forced to contend with the fact that his alternate universe self was apparently a spy.
So when they finally return to their own universe, get the Shepard working correctly for the very first time, and board the evacuation capsule toward Earth, it’s an inspiring and lovely moment of relief. And … as viewers we can all just choose to live in ignorance over the fact that they had absolutely no idea what kind of an apocalyptic, monstrous dumpster fire they were returning to! (Listen, there’s still time for a sequel to fix it all.)
The great airport escape.
Set against the real life backdrop of the 1973 Chilean military coup and the notorious cult in the South of Chile, Colonia Dignidad, Colonia (The Colony) follows a woman named Lena as she joins said cult in order to rescue her boyfriend Daniel, who has been forcibly enlisted into its ranks. The tension steadily builds throughout the film as Lena and Daniel fight tooth and nail to orchestrate their eventual escape, but they’re still not safe even after they get away from the compound. Their next hurdle is getting out of the country alive with their incriminating, photographic evidence of the horrors that lie within Colonia Dignidad’s walls … which becomes increasingly difficult when the staff at the West German embassy betray them.
Viewers are left on the edge of their seats when the couple realizes, trapped in a room at the airport, that the cult’s leader Paul Schäfer has just pulled up outside to collect them. What follows is a heart-pounding chase through the airport — including a scene in which Brühl’s character stands opposite Schäfer and spits on the glass divider in between them. They just barely make it onto the plane as Schäfer’s men chase them across the tarmac. Schäfer uses his influence and power to cancel their flight permit, but thankfully Lena is a stewardess and the plane is full of her co-workers, the pilot included. And so, defying the orders they’ve just received, the plane takes off.
Ich und Kaminski (2015)
The most miserable slip n’ slide ever.
Ich und Kaminski (Me and Kaminski) tells the story of Sebastian Zöllner, a writer that travels to the Swiss Alps to interview a legendary artist named Manuel Kaminski. His intentions are dubious at best, as he intends to have a biography ready to hit the shelves the moment that Kaminski dies. This is, without a doubt, one of Brühl’s funniest and most entertaining roles yet; Sebastian’s actions, mannerisms, and attitude can best be described as deviously chaotic.
Of all the outlandishly hilarious happenings throughout the film, like his miserable hike to Kaminski’s house, all of his nonsensical daydreams, his sneaky photoshoot, and the road trip from hell, there’s one disastrous scene in particular that lives rent-free in my head. After seriously overstaying his welcome on his first visit to Kaminski’s house, Sebastian is caught in a torrential downpour on his walk back to his lodgings for the evening. At least he’s not sweating, right? However, things take a terrible turn for him when he’s on the verge of throwing a rock at a cow. Sebastian proceeds to slip and fall, sliding down the hill through an electric fence and toward the cows like the most miserable slip n’ slide ever.
Ladies in Lavender (2004)
Andrea Marowski … a violin prodigy?!
Ladies in Lavender focuses on the adventures of two sisters that find a handsome stranger washed up on the beach near their house. And while it’s one thing for a young Polish man to end up on the shores of a quaint English fishing village after being swept overboard from his ship, it’s something else entirely when said man also happens to be an incredibly gifted violist (much to the shock of Janet and Ursula, who are merely trying to do their best in nursing him back to health while also attempting to find an appropriate way to broach the language barrier they face with him).
Watching the complete change in Andrea’s demeanor when he finally gets his hands on a violin and shows everyone in the room what he’s capable of is one of the film’s best scenes, and he then only continues to flourish as he ventures out into the town and eventually meets an acquaintance that will forever change the course of his entire life (leading to his equally charming on stage performance at the very end).
The Pelayos (2012)
“Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more …”
The Pelayos (Winning Streak), which is based on a true story, centers on the Pelayo family as they utilize an ingenious method to legally win money at the casino. As to be expected, drama unfolds throughout the course of their adventures, though they ultimately come out successful and on top. Despite being an entertaining film to watch overall, the Brühl scene in particular that I’ve chosen to focus on occurs right in the opening moments before the fun even starts to unfold: when Iván and his band perform “Hit the Road Jack.” This rare chance to hear Brühl sing was undoubtedly one of the best things to come out of this movie.
For anyone that found themselves somewhere between moderately to extremely concerned about the scene choice for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier … worry not. I’d be remiss not to mention one of the single most iconic moments in the history of the MCU: Zemo tearing up the dance floor.
Since this falls outside of the realm of film and television, this last one serves as a bonus. Once upon a time, Brühl took on the role of a wonderfully chaotic fictional television host named Dirk Brûlée for a music video entitled “Everything At Once” by the band Travis. It’s incredible, trust me.
What are some of your favorite Daniel Brühl film and television moments? There are plenty more beyond the ones mentioned today! Let us know in the comments, and take another dive into his work with our spotlight article Beyond Baron Zemo: Exploring the Work of Daniel Brühl.
Stay tuned for Brühl’s next upcoming films: Nebenan (Next Door), his directorial debut which has begun making the rounds at film festivals; The King’s Man, coming to theaters December 22, and Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front, which is expected to premiere in 2022.