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  Captain, The Imposter Syndrome
Year: 2017
Director: Robert Schwentke
Stars: Max Hubacher, Alexander Fehling, Milan Peschel, Alexander Horbe, Frederick Lau, Blerim Destani, Michael Bornhutter, Waldemar Bornhus, Britta Hammelstein, Wolfram Koch, Samuel Finzi, Samia Muriel Chancrin, Haymon Maria Buttinger
Genre: WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: 1945, two weeks before the end of the Second World War, and in Poland the German forces, as elsewhere, are falling apart, with their soldiers deserting whenever they can. One such deserter is Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), who has fled across the countryside, well aware that like others of his ilk he will be chased by his own superiors with a view to rounding them up and executing them for cowardice. He manages to evade one such officer and his men, and as he stumbles around he meets a fellow deserter, though their comradeship is shortlived when the other man is murdered for looting. But fate will bring Herold a chance to better himself...

Well, not really better, actually as a human being he gets a whole lot worse, but The Captain, or Der Hauptmann as it was originally known in Germany, was not a feelgood yarn about winning through adversity to prevail, though it was indeed a tale about winning through adversity. It was based on a true story of a German private who found an abandoned Captain's uniform and upon dressing in it, was taken for a Nazi officer, allowing that subterfuge to go straight to his head as he quickly turned murderous. The reasoning in his warped mind appeared to be that he had to keep up the appearance lest he lose his own life in the war, yet a madness had overtaken him.

Therefore not only did Herold have to shoot the occasional looter to make it look as if he was a representative of order and law in this encroaching chaos, he allowed this newfound power to go to his head, and soon was managing massacres of German prisoners of war, apparently without a speck of conscience to rein in his actions. Director and screenwriter Robert Schwentke did not have anything heretofore indicating he had the capabilities to recreate this horrible tale of the worst of human nature, having spent his career previous to this largely on middling, would-be popular entertainments that sometimes hit their target audience, but often did not. This was different.

Maybe those responsible for the most mediocre movies do have what it takes to create something genuinely excellent, maybe they don't, but Schwentke superbly put across this matter of historical record with a vividness and bleak humour that tempered its unlovely conclusions about what power can do to people. Give someone the opportunity for influence, and if it involves a possibility to deal with death, then the true test of their character will be how far they can do the right thing; we would like to believe if we were in Herold's situation, or one like it, we would not bow to pressure and do the decent thing for our fellow human, yet throughout this film we were being told, whatever you do, don't give people this kind of power, it will only corrupt them and make them hungry for more. Obviously Nazi Germany was not like every state, but committing acts for the purity of your country will lead to atrocities, this was warning.

Weirdly, Herold's antics were presented here were almost as if he was the life and soul of a party, and he was having a great time getting drunk on his newfound respect and ability to order the end of his fellow man's lives. In fact, in the latter scenes he actually does start a party, a curious insight into his personality that he was treating his pretence like a clown - earlier we see a pair of comedians desperately going for laughs at a Nazi gathering, and they are a lot more scared than Herold winds up once he hits his stride. This was filmed in stark black and white (apart from one shot), and Schwentke offers a nightmarish playfulness to his account that won't make you roar with laughter exactly, but may have you uncomfortably recognising the worst impulses you may be prone to yourself, if you could admit them. A coda under the end credits had the cast staging increasingly sinister-seeming Candid Camera-style pranks on members of the public: asking for papers, searching them, and so on, in a last warning that the bad times can always return. Music by Martin Todsharow.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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