Adolf Hitler was an accomplished monster but a bad painter. And the provocative historical fantasy Max has the cheek to suggest that the fascist dictator became the former because he failed at the latter -- that what Hitler really wanted to do was get people to admire his canvasses, and that totalitarian politics was the revenge of the artistically untalented.
Then again, by calling his film ''Max,'' writer-director Menno Meyjes places a pointed emphasis on the role of sophisticated, blindered fellow Germans like the fictional Max Rothman (John Cusack), a cultured Jewish art dealer, in Hitler's rise to power. Rothman's encouragement drives impoverished, bitter, socially inept Hitler (''Shine'''s Noah Taylor) to apoplexy -- and to the invention of Nazism. Shot with a heavy artiness of its own, ''Max'' is none too graceful in its overdetermined story structure (i.e., a synagogue Sabbath service versus an anti-Semitic rally) or its consciously snappy dialogue (''Hitler, come on, I'll buy you a glass of lemonade''). But it challenges, this nervy oddity, like modern art should.