The Captain – Der Hauptmann (2017) A Chilling German WWII Movie

The Captain – Der Hauptmann is a German black and white movie, directed by Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveller’s Wife, Flight Plan, Red, Insurgent) and starring Max Hubacher, Milan Peschel and Frederick Lau. It premiered in the UK, last Friday.

Before I even begin my review, I have to point out that this is based on a true story. Sometimes it doesn’t matter but in this case it does because if one thought this was fiction, one would find it over the top, but since it’s not, it’s really a shocking movie.

The Captain begins with a hunt. A group of soldiers chases a young soldier, Pvt Willi Herold, who was separated from his unit. Obviously, they think he’s a deserter. The scene is more than effective. We can feel Willi’s fear. We can imagine what they would have done with him, if they had caught him, but they don’t. He escapes.

It’s 1945, two weeks before the end of the war and things are chaotic. The Germans still hope to win the war but even the most hardened realize it might not happen. There are many soldiers, like Willi, separated from their units, but also a lot of deserters. When they get caught, they are shot immediately.

Even though he’s escaped, Willi knows he’s still in danger. When he finds the uniform of an Nazi officer, he doesn’t hesitate and puts it on. As soon as he wears the uniform, roaming soldiers begin to follow him and accept him as their commander. At first, Willi is puzzled and a bit unsure but he soon realizes that the uniform has an almost magical power. The trouble begins only when they encounter fellow officers. They are a little less gullible and so, Willi invents a mission that, as he tells the people he meets, comes from Adolf Hitler directly.

Willi and his band of soldiers arrive at a camp for political prisoners. At first, the commanding officers are not so sure about this Captain, but once they notice how determined he is, how willing to sort out their problems, they put him in charge. What follows is truly shocking. Not only is Willi cruel, but downright sadistic. He seems to enjoy executing and slaughtering people and abuses the blind obedience of his soldiers who follow his most cruel orders. No wonder, he was called The Executioner of Emsland.

I have seen a lot of movies about depraved people, notably in war movies, but Willi Herold might be one of the worst. It’s shocking that someone kills and tortures without restraint, as soon as he gets the opportunity. And to think that all these people died at his hands only two weeks before the end of the war.

I highly recommend this film. It’s a shocking story, impeccably told and masterfully shot. I’m still speechless.

Thanks to Signature Entertainment for letting me view this film in exchange for an honest review.

 

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The Last Witness (2018)

The Last Witness is a UK/Polish political thriller directed by Piotr Szkopiak, starring Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike, I am Number Four), Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, Victoria and Abdul), Talulah Riley (Pride and Prejudice, Westworld), Robert Więckiewicz (In Darkness, The Mighty Angel) and Will Thorp (Coronation Street, Casualty).

The movie tells the story of Stephen Underwood (Alex Pettyfer), an ambitious, young journalist. In 1947, the body of a Polish ex-serviceman is found on a beach near Bristol. This isn’t the first time this happened, but like before, the police say it’s a suicide. Underwood doesn’t believe this explanation and wants to investigate the case. Unfortunately his boss isn’t interested in the story, still, Underwood won’t let go. Others try to dissuade him from his investigation; his girlfriend who is married to an influential, gay man and his brother, who is in the army.

The dead men lived at a resettlement camp for Polish ex-service men who didn’t want to return to their Soviet-occupied home country after the war. Underwood contacts Colonel Janusz Pietrowski, a Liaison Officer at the camp, and finds out about a conspiracy. Pietrowsky tells Underwood about a Russian who also lives at the camp and who saw something, back in Poland, during the war, that might offer an explanation for these alleged suicides.

One night, Underwood enters the camp and steals a diary and letters that are in the possession of the Russian man. The letters belonged to a Polish cadet. Underwood has the documents translated. What he finds out fills him with horror. In 1940, 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia were killed in a massacre that would later be known as the Katyn massacre. In 1947, it was said that the Nazi’s killed those men. For many reasons the governments of various countries decided to cover up the the real story and go with that interpretation.

The movie dramatizes this aspect, making it information that had to be kept a secret at any cost. Underwood, who is very persistent, finally manages to find out the truth and puts himself in great danger.

While this film is inspired by events that took place during the war, the story as such is purely fictional. I’m not always keen on films who go as far as The Last Witness in fabricating a story to explore an aspect of the war, nonetheless, I found this very watchable. I actually enjoyed it. I liked the cinematography, the music, the mood, and the actors very much. The movie has a dark, brooding atmosphere that goes well with the tragic theme and heightens the suspense. The end was rather surprising.

A lot of people are interested in WWII but shy away from watching war movies.This film explores an atrocity, but it can still be watched by those who don’t necessarily watch war movies. It’s explicit but not graphic. On the other hand, those who watch war movies must think of this as a thriller, inspired by true events.

The movie is inspired by the Katyn massacre that took place 1940, in Poland. Emilia Szkopiak, Piotr Szkopiak’s mother, was deported to Siberia by the Soviets in 1940. Her father, Piotr Szkopiak’s grandfather, Wojciech Stanisław Wójcik, was executed in the Katyn Massacre. In 1942 Emilia left the Soviet Union and eventually settled in England in 1947 where she continues to live to this day.

If you’re interested in the Katyn massacre, here’s a review of Katyn, an excellent movie on the topic.

The movie is out on DVD and digital on August 27th.

Thanks to Signature Entertainment for letting me view this film in exchange for an honest review.