The Captain

Contemporary World Cinema | 2017 | 118 minutes

Stranger Says:

Breathtaking black-and-white cinematography enlivens and ennobles this unbelievably brutal, disturbingly brilliant psychological study of the corrupting influence of power. Two weeks before the end of WWII, a lowly, starving German soldier, probably a deserter, scavenges a meager existence near the front. He comes upon a suitcase that contains a captain’s uniform. Initially, he puts it on to help guard against the cold. Then he gets an idea, which sets him on a course of impersonation that grows darker, more violent, and, troublingly, more credible as his path through the nearly defeated Reich proceeds. Before long, his bluff becomes a more sinister kind of performance. He wears the mask long enough for it to become his face. Many people have expressed a desire in the past couple of years to understand not merely the fact of fascism, but the process of it. The Captain isn’t exactly easy to watch (though, again, nearly every frame is beautiful), but as a window onto that process—the way people wield, dread, and capitulate to power—it’s indispensable.

SIFF Says:

The closing weeks of World War II may be remembered today as a long-awaited relief, but for the average German soldier, the nightmare was just beginning. Writer/director Robert Schwentke's THE CAPTAIN depicts these terrible final days in April 1945 through the eyes of Private Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), an insignificant grunt in the crumbling Wehrmacht, first seen running for his life as German officers give chase, assuming he’s a deserter. After barely escaping, Herold discovers an abandoned officer’s car with a captain’s uniform boxed up neatly in the backseat. Amazingly, the clothes fit, so the desperate private transforms himself into “Hauptmann Herold.” In the chaos of the retreat, no one dares to ask for proof of identity, so Herold claims he is on a “secret mission” ordered by the Führer himself. While living in constant fear that he could be exposed as an imposter, Herold gradually takes on the hauteur of a true officer, berating subordinates and eventually executing deserters—any of whom could have been himself just days earlier. Based on true events and shot in luminous, widescreen black-and-white format, THE CAPTAIN may be the most harrowing portrayal of the aftermath of Nazi atrocities seen in a German-language film—one that explores the depths to which humanity can plummet when ordinary people are given the authority of a uniform.

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Film Credits
Robert Schwentke
Max Hubacher, Milan Peschel, Frederick Lau, Bernd Hölscher, Waldemar Kobus, Alexander Fehling, Britta Hammelstein, Sascha Alexander, Samuel Finzi
SIFF 2018