Movie Review: “The Captain (Der Haptmann)”. Directed by Robert Schwentke. 1 hour, 58 minutes.
Just as you learned from the trailer, the movie is about a low-level German deserter who masquerades as an officer during the final two weeks of World War II. Toward the end of the movie, one learns that it’s a true story about a young man named Willi Herold.
Before that, you spend nearly two hours wondering and watching Willi pull off his incredible masquerade. Not only does he convince everybody he meets that he really is a high-level German officer with direct instructions from Hitler; but he convinces everybody watching the movie that he is one of the worst stereotypes of a monstrous Nazi in a monstrous war.
And we are never actually told his motivations. We really don’t know where to put Willi Herold, and he doesn’t tell us. Is he doing everything he does because he knows he is close to death and is living in a state of panic? Or is he just a terrible person who sees a chance to do something awful?
Also, we are never actually told whether we are watching a farce or a horror movie. Some scenes are as grim as any war movie ever filmed, maybe worse. Other scenes are so downright wacky that they might be some kind of movie tribute to Federico Fellini, the great Italian film maker who used realism only part of the time.
My movie buddy and I agreed that the movie was well made and that it is important. A work of art is defined as something that changes you, but it recognizes no obligation to guarantee the nature of the change.
The actors in “The Captain,” all of them set free to portray the far extremes of human emotion, are simply wonderful. The music and the shiny black and white cinematography melt the audience into the screen. My movie buddy and I agreed that we felt the need to seek out someone who would explain what we had just seen. Or maybe what we really need is somebody to sit us down and carefully explain Nazi Germany and World War II.