The Ogre
dir. Volker Schlöndorff
Opens Fri April 9 at Grand Illusion

THE OGRE STARS JOHN MALKOVICH AS Abel, a gentle and simple-minded loner who has no friends beyond the children of the neighborhood. A brief prologue of his life in a French orphanage shows his isolation, his desire to help the weak, and his obsessive certainty that fate, as he puts it, is on his side. When WWII breaks out, Abel is assigned to carrier pigeon detail. Quickly captured, he makes the best of his POW status by wandering the nearby woods. Here he meets the chief forester (Gottfried John) of the Nazi party's Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring (Volker Spengler). Impressed with Abel's love of nature, the Forester gets him a position at Göring's woodland hunting estate.

Until this point, The Ogre has been an interesting but familiar story. Suddenly, however, as Abel gets drawn into the circle of Nazi power--eventually taking a post at an SS prep school where he can once again serve his beloved children--the film does a most brave and unexpected thing: it becomes beautiful. Sunlight dapples through the leaves, castles rise from the mist like a dream, stags stand tall and proud in the forest thicket. Cocooned in his fur jacket, Göring himself appears regal and imperious, while the Nazi youth are golden and athletic as they exercise in the fading sunlight. You realize with a start, this is a full immersion into the Nazi aesthetic (even Michael Nyman's soundtrack invokes Wagnerian horns sounding in the distance), and one that our protagonist Abel finds enchanting, even magical.

Volker Schlöndorff has been down this road before with The Tin Drum, but that was an archly (and brilliantly) ironic and metaphoric film. Here he's made a movie that takes the Nazis at their word. There is brutality (animal lovers should not attend, or should at least step out during an extended hunting scene) and insanity, the latter provided by a German doctor's lectures on eugenics. But mostly there is grandeur so overwhelming and obvious it can only be a delusion. Then there's Malkovich, who has his best part in years as a tenderhearted lover of innocents, who helps destroy everything he holds dear.