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Review: The Captain (Der Hauptmann)

The Captain is not for the faint of heart. It’s the true story (or some version of it) of a German deserter in World War II, who finds a suitcase containing a Luftwaffe captain’s uniform and assumes the role, building his own band of brothers from deserters he finds along the way, and committing truly horrifying acts in the name of the Führer in the waning days of the war. Pvt. Willi Herold (Max Hubacher) simply by virtue of a uniform becomes a sadistic leader. Inventing a mission straight from Hitler himself, he quickly loses his fear of being caught and tests the limits of his own brutality. And there are no limits.

The story is a perfect illustration of Hannah Arendt’s famous “banality of evil,” in that with the exception of his driver, no one blinks an eye when Captain Herold commands them to do unspeakable things. For many of them he is giving them license to be as base as is humanly possible in the name of the Fascist state, granting them a bit of power over their fellow countrymen. For him, it’s almost a game to see how far he can go with the con. And it is chilling.

The film is beautifully shot in icy black and white and comes dangerously close to mistaken-identity humor at times, only to remember itself. Max Hubacher’s subtle facial expressions as he sizes up those around him and asserts his faux authority are unnerving. You can feel his sense of self shift. The Captain has a lot going for it – good acting, great cinematography, an untold horror tale – but I’m not sure who the audience is for it. All I can say is that if you decide to see it, be prepared to be extremely uncomfortable!


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