Der Fangschuß (aka Coup de grâce) (1976)





Director:     Volker Schlöndorff. 

Starring:     Margarethe von Trotta (Sophie de Reval),  Matthias Habich (Erich von Lhomond),  Rüdiger Kirschstein (Conrad de Reval),  Marc Eyraud (Doctor Paul Rugen),  Bruno Thost (Chopin),  Frederik von Zichy (Franz von Aland),  Valeska Gert (Aunt Praskovia),  Mathieu Carrire (Volkmar von Plessen). 

1919, at end of Russian civil war, Latvia;  a countess' unrequited love for an army officer leads to promiscuity and disaster


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

The Baltic States 1919-1920.  One soldier runs leading a horse and another runs beside them.  An explosion from an artillery shell goes off not far from them.  The men continue on.  At night they shoot a flare into the air.  They see a large building.  The narrator says:  "I recall little of these far-off struggles against Bolshevism in Livonia and Kurland."  The soldiers ring the bell and are let in.  For the officer soldier named Konrad von Reval it was like going back to his childhood.  The reactionary stronghold, the castle Kratovice, was in the lost borderland of Eastern Europe.  A servant shouts upstairs:  "The Master is back!"  His sister Sophie runs down to embrace Konrad.  Then she goes over to her brother's comrade, Erich von Lhomond, the narrator, and kisses him on the lips.  Konrad is warmly  welcomed by Aunt Praskovia.   

The officers "from Kronstadt" are introduced to a room full of other officers.   The man in charge says that "Bolshevism is infecting the entire population."  Sophie says good night to her aunt.  The narrator Lhomond says that Sophie had changed.  Before their arrival, she had been a frightened prisoner.  With the return of Konrad she could once again become the mistress of the mansion. Konrad and Sophie walk the grounds of the mansion.  He tells her about the horrors of war and battle.  Sophie says the only remaining servants are Mila and old Michel.  Konrad speaks of restoring the land to the way it was before. 

The soldiers are being deloused.  At night the officers, Sophie and Aunt Praskovia have dinner.  They try to prepare the piano so one of the men can play it.  Just as they are ready to sing, a mortar shell lands near the mansion.  Then rifle firing starts.  They are under attack.  The men in the mansion grab their rifles and rush out to fight. 

Next morning.  It snows. The commander's order is announced.  There is a reward of 100 Eastern rubles for each Bolshevik killed.  The same reward will be given to anyone providing information leading to the capture or killing of a Bolshevik.  A prisoner is brought in.  He is German Latvian but he says to his captors:  "We'll get rid of you."  He was a prisoner in Siberia.  He is from Darmstadt.  And he admits he is a communist. 

Late at night, Sophie brings some food to Erich.    She asks why he came back to fight when he could have stayed in Berlin or Paris.  He says maybe he likes lost causes.  She asks him if he has a mistress.  No.  His relations with women have been short and trivial.  He prefers friendship to love with women.  Women want long lasting relationships. 

Sophie sympathized with the reds.  She was close to her red friend Grigori Loew, son of the Jewish tailor and midwife.  Sophie visits Grigori trying on a new dress being made for her.  She borrows a newspaper from Grigori.  She says she will bring it back.  Sophie leaves.

Erich is examining the lay of the land in the area.  Sophie invites him in to sit at a table to write.  She takes the opportunity to tell Erich that she loves him.  He says he can't offer her the type of life she deserves.  She tells him it doesn't have to be serious, but he replies that with her it's always serious.

Sophie returns the newspaper to Grigori.  He tells her that if they follow her, they will finger him.  Grigori says she should stay at her place.  She tells him that she might want to join.  Erich sees Sophie coming from town.  In the evening Erich tells her he saw her in the village.  He says:  "It's dangerous to cross the lines."   Suppose if they took her hostage. 

The doctor says that he is running out of everything, including much needed typhus vaccine.  Erich asks the doctor about a certain Lithuanian soldier and Sophie.  The doctor says the fellow is a sergeant and it was a classic rape.  One night he got drunk and assaulted her.  The doctor urges Erich to watch out for Sophie.  It would be good for her. 

They execute the German they had captured earlier by firing squad.  Erich tells Sophie he is going on patrol and asks if she would go with him.  She agrees.  Later Erich and Sophie take off their very wet clothes.  They sit before the fire.  He touches her leg and knee. 

There is more fighting in the area.  Erich and Sophie make a run for the trench.  The officers keep covering Sophie's body with theirs when the shells come in.  The enemy keeps firing a mortar at the trench.  They finally chase the foe away. 

The next day Sophie gets up to a nearly deserted house.  Her brother and his men went to Riga, to the main quarters.  The telephones don't work.  The officer there, Franz, plays the piano.  He stares at her and then tells her that he adores her.  She looks so sad that he would like to help her.  She sings as he plays the piano. 

Erich says they went to Riga to discuss the details of the next offensive.  They learned that the Allies favored the Soviets, thereby depriving their resistance of all meaning.  The men return by car.  They could not get any medicine in Riga.  Erich asks Sophie what's wrong.  She looks so pale.  Her brother says the trip was for nothing.  An officer tells Sophie that Erich fell for the Parisian charms of a Hungarian woman named Madeleine. 

Franz comes in and Sophie rushes over to him.  She offers him real champagne brought back from Riga.  Erich definitely notices her flirting with the man.  Erich says that the population is against us and the Germans no longer help them.  He tells Konrad they should go to Canada and start fresh.  Sophie asks Franz to take her out for a walk.  Before she goes out the door she looks toward Erich and says good night.  The next day Sophie gives Erich's candy gift to her Aunt.  She looks out the window to watch Erich and Konrad play in the snow. 

Franz tells Sophie that he is going to die soon.  He saw himself in a dream with his throat cut.  They embrace and kiss on the bed.  Not long afterward Franz's body is brought into the mansion.  They found him behind the pond with his throat cut.  Sophie doesn't really react much when she sees him dead.  Sophie has sex with another officer.  At night she dances for and with the officers.  An officer tells Erich about Sophie.  He goes to check on her.  She is drunk with her head on the table all alone.  Her dog was killed by a grenade he dug up.  She asks Erich if he would care if she died.  He doesn't answer.  She starts to throw up.  She cries.  He  takes her to her bed.  She cries and says she's ashamed. 

The doctor reports that there were two more deaths last night from typhus.  Now they burn all the bed sheets of the men.  Erich tells the doctor not to let Sophie work with the typhus patients.  The doctor says she's great with the sick.  Erich flirts with the cook.  Sophie sees him and scolds him for trying to humiliate her in front of the cook.  He asks Sophie why do women always fall in love with men who are not meant for them?  He tells her that because she gets hysterical she would be the last women he would choose.   An upset Sophie leaves the kitchen. 

Sophie doesn't close the shutters when the building is attacked by an airplane.  Erich scolds her for this.  She insults him by saying he clings to live too much.  He grabs a lantern and Sophie and goes out on the veranda to stand there while the airplane strafes the area.  Then the plane drops a bomb on the roof of the building.  He's showing Sophie that he is not afraid of death.  Back inside she rushes over to him to embrace him.  They kiss and he goes to the floor with her.  But then just as she is getting into it he suddenly dashes off to do his duty.  "Everybody out!" he shouts. As the men rush out, Erich sits down as if he were mentally exhausted. 

A courier arrives.  Von Wirtz has sent him to recall Erich.  The Baltic States must be evacuated of German units by the end of the year.  The Allies will control the retreat. 

Sophie comes back from a horse ride.  Erich scolds her, telling her the horses are not meant for her pleasure.  She just says:  "You weren't so touchy before."  He is very mad at her, but turns and walks away. 

Erich goes to see the aunt.  She tells him Sophie is going out with Volkmar.  She heard the charming man is to marry Sophie.  Erich goes to tell Sophie he's sorry about the way he talked to her earlier.  He is stopped in his tracks when he sees Volkmar in her room.  There is a long awkward moment and then Erich walks out. 

General Broussaroff is surrounded at Gurna.  It's a dreadful situation.  Erich suggests they save him.  They can deploy some troops beyond the river at Olida to mine the railway and cut off the Reds.  Sophie decorates the Christmas tree.  Konrad goes to get some mistletoe.  Erich rushes out to tell him to be careful.  He helps him get down from the tree.  At night they have a party.  Erich is up in his room reading.  Sophie again dances with the officers and gets kissed under the mistletoe.  The same movement is made by all the officers.   Erich now watches as this continues.  He marches over to Sophie and slaps her in the face knocking her down.  Plessen starts to fight with him.  The officers separate the two men. Plessen wants to have a duel with Erich. 

Sophie comes to his room.  She calls Erich.  She says she loves him and she asks him to forgive her.  He in turn asks for her forgiveness.  Erich then asks her to wait until he returns from Gurna.  The soldiers pull out of the castle.  A single rider comes riding fast.  He passes a number of crosses.  He collapses from his horse at the door of one of the castle buildings.  Erich and his men are surrounded.  Plessen thinks Erich sent him deliberately.  He asks Sophie to be his wife.  She says:  "It can't be."  Then Plessen drops a bomb on her.  He says Erich is clever.  He takes the sister to get close to the brother.  Does she know what happened in Riga?  No.  He won't tell her.  He gets on his horse and races off. 

A message arrives at the castle.  The Broussaroff operation is a failure.  We still don't know whether we'll be able to retreat. 

The soldiers return to the castle.  Sophie tells Erich that she is leaving.  She tells him that the war is his pretext for his own pleasure.  If that's want he wants, he should take a stable boy.  She spits on him and runs down the stairs and goes out.  She starts walking away from the castle. 

Erich says:  "I knew Sophie well enough to know she'd never be seen again at Kratovice.  But I was sure our paths would cross again one day. Even had I known the circumstances of our future encounter, I would have still just let her go."

Erich and four men search the house of the communist tailor.  The woman tries to burn the papers.  Erich pushes her to the side.  This is enough to arrest you, he says.  He wants to know about where the Countess went.  She put on men's clothes and left with a guide, probably Grigori Loew.  Erich tells Konrad that she told all their plans to Grigori.  Konrad says so that's why all our plans failed.  The two and their men leave to for Germany.  Approaching  a house Konrad is wounded by an explosion.    He dies while being carried on a wagon.  The men run into an ambush.  Machine gun fire comes from one of the rooms in the building.  Some men rush under one building to get to the other.  A woman is with the prisoners.  It's Sophie. 

Erich speaks with Sophie.  He says he wants to clear up a few things.  You know neither side is taking prisoners?  Yes, she knows.  Does she have relatives in Germany?  She asks him if he is taking her to Germany.  Was this Konrad's plan too?   Konrad is dead.  Sophie says:  "My condolences."  He asks her if she wants to die.  She just asks about what he will do with the others.  She turns her back on him.  He grabs her head and tilts it back to his face.  Then he kisses the top of her head.  She tells him:  "Stop it!  It's not like you."   He walks away from her and she leaves. 

The next day the train arrives.  They bring out the prisoners one by one.  On your knees!  Shot in the back of the head.  Next.  Next.  Next.  Sophie's turn next.  She asks Erich to shoot her.  He walks over to her.  He takes his pistol out and shoots her in the head. 

The men then stand for a photo next to the train.  They all get on the train and the train pulls out. 


Very good film.  Powerful film.  It's a powerful love story set against the background of the Latvian War of Independence, which was in part also a civil war.  Great performance by Margarethe von Trotta.  I was rooting for her in the love story.  Her character (Sophie) really had it bad for Erich von Lhomond   This kept my interest until the very end.  Matthias Habich  was also good as Erich, but his part of a hard ass wasn't as difficult to play. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

As the booklet to the movie says, the time is the early twenties in the Latvian War of Independence (or some might say Latvian Civil War) when there were many competing and fighting forces, including radical Bolsheviks, Estonian nationalists, Latvian nationalists, German junkers and White Russians, as well as volunteer militias. 

Livonia  --  included southern Estonia and northern Latvia. It became a Russian province in 1783, but in 1918 was divided between Estonia and Latvia.

Kurland (Courland)  --  A historical region and former duchy of southern Latvia; located between the Baltic Sea and the Western Dvina River. It passed to Russia in 1795, but in 1918 was largely incorporated into Latvia.

1914-1918  --  World War I.   Latvian riflemen fought on the Russian side.

1917-1922  --  the Russian civil war.  Latvians fought on both sides.  A significant group known as Latvian red riflemen supported the Bolsheviks.

1918 (March 3)  --  Soviet Russia formally relinquished all authority over its former Imperial Baltic provinces to Germany in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

1918  --  The United Baltic Duchy was formed.  At the time the German Empire occupied the territory covering what are now Latvia and Estonia before the end of WWI.  Latvia was included within the Baltic German-led United Baltic Duchy, but this collapsed after the defeat of the German Empire in 1918.

1918 (March 8 and April 12) -- the local Baltic-German-dominated Kurländische Landesrat declared itself an independent state known as the Duchy of Courland (Herzogtum Kurland).

1918 (April 12)  --  the Vereinigter Landesrat of Livland, Estland, Riga, and Ösel  declared itself an independent state, known as the Baltic State (Baltischer Staat).

Both states declared there were in personal union with the Kingdom of Prussia (even though the German government never acknowledged this).

1918 (September 22)  --  Kaiser William II nominally recognized the Baltic lands as a sovereign state.  The new state was led by Baron Adolf Pilar von Pilchau.

1918 (Nov 5)  --  a temporary Regency Council (Regentschaftsrat) is formed on a joint basis from the two local Land Councils.

1918 (Nov 18)  --  Latvia proclaimed independence.  (The day is now Latvian Independence Day.)

1918-1940  --  independent Latvia.  (At this time southern Livonia became an administrative region named Vidzeme  -- and included the then much larger counties of Riga, Cesis, Valmiera, and Valka.)

1919 ( autumn)  --  the red Latvian division participated in a major battle against the "white" anti-Bolshevik army headed by the Russian general Anton Denikin.

1920 (August 11)  --  the Russian SFSR acknowledges Latvia's independence. 

1921 (Jan 26)  --  the international community recognized Latvia's independence. 


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