Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Max Hubacher, Frederick Lau, Bernd Hölscher, Waldemar Kobus, Alexander Fehling, Samuel Finzi. Germany. 1h 50m
Here is another chilling nightmare from the German home front, as the end of the war begins to loom into reality and defeat is imminent, a lone German runs deep into the woods while being chased by some overprivileged soldiers blowing horns and taking pot luck shots at him. The man manages to evade death and recapture and eventually stumbles on an abandoned car and uniform of a high ranking officer.
This crystalline black and white brutal masterpiece, possible shot in this style inspired by Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) shows that the talented director Schwentke has gone back to basic and delivered something beautifully stark and somewhat monstrous.
Willi Herold (Hubacher) is the main aspect of this drama, and the bizarre true story starts as soon as he dons the Luftwaffe captains uniform, dressing up he begins to take on a new persona, and with extraordinary cunning he relishes in the new fear of his authority, something recreated many years later in the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, only the results are much more damning in 1940’s Germany as the county was already losing it shit without a challenging authority Herold was seen as a saviour and a tool.Initially he hooks up with Freytag (Peschel) possibly another soldier wanting to get back to a normal life, but in fear of meeting a captain he soon becomes his underling, and chauffeurs him into the nearest town. Herold uses his position to acquire board and food, the cost is mostly promises of reimbursement to all the townsfolk of what was lost during the way but finally he’s coerced into a midnight impertue trail for the innkeeper who’s out for justice, and once the suspected thief is executed he’s on his way but unfortunately he’s diverted to Emsland and after recreating a story of being sent with orders directly from the Fuhrer himself he embarks on executing everyone. What’s the best way to avoid a witch hunt, to become the biggest witch hunter, within hours he’s displaying more horrific behaviour than than his original imprisoners. He plays a dangerous game but he plays it well.
There’s a tight relationship between Herod and Freytag, at times he comes down from his power trip and gives him a break other times he’s just as cruel and masochistic to him as he is to everyone else. What the young man has worked out is how to lie, how to impress and ultimately how to be used, the camp is poorly supplied and he soon realises that he’s the excuse the guardians have been waiting for to reduce the numbers, save money and ultimately to go home.
Accompanying the more outrageous and unabandoned scenes there is a heavy industrial soundtrack that booms through slow mo scenes of men pulled cars and drunken parties which cranks up just how insane all of these bloody situations are.
Schwentke hit some nerves with Tattoo back in 2003 with a Se7en (1995) style story of two cops on the search for a sadistic serial killer but this was noted for the use of blood, gore and body horror, in stark contrast this monochrome epic is more about cold hard death and the sadistic thrill ride of one man on the edge and those who followed him (does that sound familiar?) I think with this return to basica, Schwentke has studied some of the classics especially from Larisa Shepitko.And along side the arty shots with the fancy electronic music he also gets his camera muddy as he tries to bare witness to a dark situation. Luckily with leading man Max Hubacher dazzling performance it looks good and takes the edge off but it remains a spectacular film.
R: Tattoo (2003)
L: A-Z of German Cinema Volume 1