Der Unhold (The Ogre) (1996)




Director:     Volker Schlndorff.

Cast:     John Malkovich (Abel Tiffauges), Gottfried John (Chief Forrester), Marianne Sgebrecht (Mrs. Netta), Volker Spengler (Fieldmarshall Hermann Goering), Heino Ferch (SS Officer Raufeisen), Dieter Laser (Prof. Blaettchen), AgnPs Soral (Rachel), Sasha Hanau (Martine), Vernon Dobtcheff (Lawyer), Simon McBurney (Brigadier), Ilja Smoljanski (Ephraim), Luc Florian (Prisoner-of-War), Laurent Spielvogel (Prisoner-of-War), Marc Duret (Prisoner-of-War), Philippe Sturbelle (Prisoner-of-War).

a French POW rounds up children for a German military academy, who are ultimately sacrificed to stem the oncoming Russians


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

As a child, the mentally deficient Abel never felt that he belonged.  At St. Christopher's Catholic School he was like a zombie.  He was always wishing to be set free to be himself.  For some infraction of the rules, he gets slapped four times across the face by the punisher priest .

1925 Faubourgs de Paris.  Abel's friend Nestor protected him from the bigger boys.  His father was the janitor of the school and he had access to the keys for the entire school.  The boys would dream of going to Canada.  One day in church Abel traded with another boy for a lighter.  The boy then gave him the lighter fluid.  Abel drops the container and the fluid gets all over the floor.  Abel gets in trouble for this.  He wishes that his school would burn down.  While he goes upstairs for his four slaps, Nestor lights the lighter but the fire gets out of control because of the sloppy transfer of lighter fluid into the lighter.   He drops the lighter onto the floor which ignites the lighter fluid there.  The fire starts to get out of hand.  The alarm saves Abel from his punishment, but Nestor dies in the fire. 

Many years later.  Abel is a car mechanic.  He says:  "Somehow I always inspire fear in people."  He picks up a young girl named Martine hit in an automobile accident.  The mother thinks he hurt the girl and yells at him.  Once in a while a woman named Rachel pays him a visit in order to keep his books in order.  They also have sex at that time.  She was the first one to call him "ogre". 

One day  he gives Martine a ride in one of the cars he works on.  She wants to see his camera which he uses to take pictures of kids.  When he refuses she gets very mad at him.  Shortly afterwards, he hears Martine calling for help.  He runs to find her.  He finds her moaning and saying:  "He hurt me."  The police arrive shortly afterwards and they conclude that Abel was molesting the little girl.  He is taken down to the police station.  Martine is brought in and she identifies Abel as the man who had accosted her.  Fortunately for Abel, France knows that war is coming with Germany and they put Abel in the French army and dismiss the case. 

Abel works with carrier pigeons in the army.  One day German soldiers show up and makes the pigeon workers prisoners of war.  Abel says that he was not upset; he was actually happy to be taken out of France.  He works with other POWs preparing an airport.  One day Abel wanders off and comes across a cabin in the forest.  He makes this cabin a place to which he gets away to now and then.  One day a German Colonel with a shotgun asks Abel what he is doing in the cabin.  He says:  "This is not permitted."  He tells Abel to go back to the camp. 

Back at camp, Abel finds that the pigeons he was keeping have been killed and cooked for the men.  Abel gets so mad that he attacks one of the men responsible.  The German guards are friendly with Abel, probably because they know he is mentally deficient and is not a threat in any way.  Abel makes a New Year's resolution never to see France again. 

Spring arrives.  The German Colonel Abel met, tells him to get into his car.  They are driven to a hunting lodge.  He tells Abel that he is Goring's chief forester and that he wants Abel to be his assistant.  Goring arrives in style accompanied by a female lion.  Abel has a winning way with animals and he gets the lion to do things that others cannot even make her do.  The Germans are impressed. 

The German Colonel shows Abel the military academy at Kaltenborn Castle where the elite children are trained for the German army.  The Castle belongs to Karl Kaltenborn, an officer in the German army.  Goring grabs Abel to drive him into the forest.  The chief forester tells the German soldiers to follow Goring.  Goring gets mad at the chief forester because he asks the number two man in the German Reich to spare a buck with a huge set of antlers for one more year because he is their best stud deer.  This delays Goring enough for the buck to get away.  This infuriates Goring and he tells the Colonel:  "He's mine or you're dead."  Abel thinks to himself that Goring reminds him of his boyhood friend Nestor. 

Beaters force the forest animals to a large gathering of hunters and the hunters have a field day killing many deer, wild boars and rabbits.  Goring kills a great many animals.  Kaltenborn spies the big buck and aims his rifle at him.  Abel tries to stop him for fear of what might happen to the Colonel, but Kaltenborn shoots and kills the buck despite Abel's protest.   The Colonel has to tell Goring.  The luftwaffe commander becomes infuriated and tells the Colonel that he is not only going to send him to the Russian front, but also everyone working with the Colonel at the lodge.  Goring then receives bad news about the German loss at Stalingrad.  He is so upset that he makes everyone leave the room.  Shortly afterward, Goring suddenly has to return to Berlin. 

The chief forester is going to the Russian front.  Abel asks him:  "Can I be assigned to the castle of Kaltenborn?"  The Colonel says he will write a letter for him to make this possible.  He then gives Abel his horse.  Later Abel rides his horse to Kaltenborn Castle.  There he watches the young boys being trained to be army leaders.  One of the tasks Abel is to perform is to get the food for the boys.  Abel likes the place and says:  "This school felt like home."  Abel likes the kids and the kids like Abel. 

One day coming back with supplies from town, Abel sees a bunch of young boys from Marienburg camping by a lake.  He invites all the boys to dinner at the Castle.  The school commander, SS Officer Raufeisen, is thrilled with Abel because he needs all the young boys he can get his hands on for the war effort.  Raufeisen decides to make Abel a kind of recruiter.  Abel fills with pride when Raufeisen says:  "I'm relying on you.  Just bring me the boys." 

At first Abel scares the mothers of the children he tries to recruit.  But after a while and with his winning ways, the mothers begin to trust him and are willing to give their sons to him.  But what Abel perceives and reality are two different things.  His actions show that all are afraid of Abel, who soon acquires the nickname of "the Ogre". 

Abel works with a medical doctor who believes in German racial superiority.  The doctor rejects one of the boys, named Lothar, brought in by Abel.  Abel feels sorry for the boy, who wants to be a part of the military academy.  Lothar is saved by Raufeisen who overrules the doctor.  Raufeisen needs all the boys he can get.  Lothar is welcomed into the ranks in a ceremony in which Raufeisen tells him:  "You belong to the Fuhrer." 

Raufeisen teaches the boys how to destroy an enemy tank.  A great deal of fire comes out of the back of the bazooka-like weapon when it is discharged.  Lothar carelessly stands behind one of the boys who fires off his anti-tank weapon.  His face and hands are badly burned and he is taken to the hospital where they place him in a cast.  Abel is haunted by the face of the burned Lothar. 

News arrives that some German officers were involved in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler.  It is discovered that Kaltenborn is one of the officers.  Kaltenborn is sent by car to Berlin to be executed in a terrible way.  Abel remembers Kaltenborn's last words to him:  "The country is doomed. . . .  My advise is to leave immediately."  Abel responded:  "I can't leave the children."

Raufeisen goes with the older boy to the front, which now is not so far away.  Food at the academy is scarce.  The boys are getting younger and younger.  Abel sees the refugees fleeing before the Russian onslaught.  He also sees the medical doctor he worked for dead on the street.  On his way back to the academy, Abel runs into his old French army and POW friends.  They tell Abel to go with them, but Abel only says he can't leave the children.   This remark just leaves his old buddies bewildered.   At night the Germans move the concentration camp survivors around the area.  Abel finds a lot of dead inmates along the routes used by the German guards.  But one of the bodies is alive.  It is a Jewish boy named Ephraim.  Abel takes him to the castle and hides him in the attic. 

Abel wonders:  "What am I to do with all the children I've collected?"  What he decides to do is to lead the young students to safety.   He tells them that they are in danger and they must go into the forest and hide.  If not, the students will be killed by the Russians.  But the heavily indoctrinated students object to what Abel is telling them and they call him a traitor.  Several of the older boys approach him and one hits Abel hard with his rifle butt.  The now bloody Abel is knocked unconscious. 

Raufeisen returns and decides to make a last stand.  He shouts that "The castle will never surrender.  To your battle stations, boys."  Ephraim cleans Abel's wounds up in the attic.  The Russian tanks are heading for the castle.  Abel kills a German soldier who discovers Ephraim.  Abel then tries to surrender the castle to the Soviets by waving a white flag from the roof.  Raufeisen tries to shoot Abel, but misses.  The Russian soldiers open fire.  Some boys are able to to take out a Russian tank, but they fail on their next effort.  The second tank runs over the area where the boys were hiding, burying them alive.

Raufeisen fights to the very end when he is shot with a pistol by an enemy soldier.  The castle goes up in flames with all the boys dead.  Ephraim climbs on Abel"s shoulders and helps guide him through a shrub swamp -- hopefully to safety. 

Good movie.  The main character Able, who is mentally deficient, is kind of like a French Forest Gump.  Abel is permitted up close and personal access to the Germans and their war machine because he does not threaten them in any way.  Although Abel cannot realize it, he works for that very war machine that devastated so much of Europe and the Soviet Union.  Abel gets a good look at the blind indoctrination of the young children into the German army.  Some of the young students were so enthused and believed in Hitler so much that they were able to do some damage to the Russian counter-attack against Germany.   As usual, John Malkovich did a terrific acting job as the main character. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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