Category Archives: Film

“ARE YOU FROM DIXIE’— Finding One’s Place

“Are You from Dixie?” Finding One’s Place Amos Lassen I am from Dixie—born, raised and educated in New Orleans and I have watched as symbols of the old South have been taken away. This film is about two Latino brothers with opposing views about their American identity who search for their place in a modern South. I recently learned that what I thought were tributes to great men were only “scarred Confederate monuments” in the land of the racially divided and the struggling middle class. This is what the two brothers, Manny and Ramon Castillo, feel although I must say that in New Orleans I was never aware of this (aside from the monuments to Confederate soldiers.)
I understand that the idea for the film came to director Art Arutyunyan from a conversation he had with his frequent collaborator Armand Petri (who plays Ramon Castillo. Petri began talking about Confederate monuments and the controversy surrounding them in New Orleans. From that conversation, the script evolved into a story of brotherhood and family responsibility, both universal and personal subjects.
I just one to make a personal note here. Everyone has something to say about the removal of the Confederate monuments and I have noticed that. Great deal of what has been said has been done so not by people who live in the places where the monuments are located. I grew up with this kinds of monuments for a good part of my life and really never paid them any mind and neither did I ever think about the Confederacy and the role it played in building New Orleans. Now that I live in Boston, we are getting some of the same controversy with the names of schools being changed because the original names belonged to slaveholders. Slavery is part of American history and it is our onus but I am fascinated how this controversy has brought it back into the spotlight again. Now back to the film.
We meet Ramon and Manny (Drake Malone) as they share information on how to survive with each other and we immediately realize that the two are total opposites.Ramon is a traditionalist and believes in responsibility while Manny is a millennial ease and cares nothing about “the once-again brewing racial tension in the South.” The brothers had only been raised apart but in two different countries so in the film, they each represent a distinctive voice in the times when having a different opinion can cost one his job, his home and even his life.  They find themselves in the midst of the Confederate Monument saga  during which the South is divided into two polar opposites.
I understand that the film was shot in Southeast Louisiana about the time when the “Lee Circle” statue was removed in New Orleans and the debate was at its peak. Lee Circle was like the Statue of Liberty to many New Orleanians and we often used it in giving directions around town. I never once thought of it as a Confederate monument—it was just Lee’s Circle.
We share the brothers’ journey from their own opposites to where they see each other with more understanding and compassion. It is an amazing transformation and everything about the film is good (well, not everything but I found it to be most definitely deserving of praise). These days we are filled with confusion and we host conflicts but one thing I can say for sure it that the South is not going to rise again.

“JONATHAN AGASSI SAVED MY LIFE”— Up Close and Personal with Gay Porn Star from Israel

“JONATHAN AGASSI SAVED MY LIFE” Up Close and Personal with Gay Porn Star from Israel Amos Lassen Jonathan Agassi is one of the world’s most successful gay porn stars who built his fame and success on a global taboo that pleases millions. ”Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life” is an intimate look at the world of porn and escorting and at a unique relationship between a mother and son, who courageously redefine familiar family concepts. In essence, this is a film about a lonely person who seeks love and meaning, but is condemned to a destructive lifestyle, understanding that the extreme fantasies he chases are not necessarily his own.
Tomer Heymann who directed this new documentary says that the title says it all. Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life” was eight years in the making. Tomer Heymann first discovered the titular Agassi by chance in Tel Aviv. Tomer was struck by his looks and charm but completely unaware  that he was a well-known individual. His friends told him that he was crazy because he didn’t know that Agassi was a hugely famous porn star.
Heymann set out to discover more about him with the idea  to turning his life story into a film. Agassi was living in Berlin and Heymann arranged to meet him in a hotel and it was strange because Agassi thought Heymann was trying to have sex with him. Agassi had seen a couple of the Heymann brothers’ films, but his initial reaction was that he had no interest in starring in his own, particularly for any monetary reasons.
He had received an offer of ils500,000 [$140,000] to be in the Israeli version of Big Brother [which he turned down], but he said he wasn’t interested in money. Heymann told him we wouldn’t pay him one shekel because it was our principal to never pay anything to documentary characters. Agassi struck a deal with the director that if he could convince his mother, who he insisted would never speak about Agassi’s life as an escort and porn star, to appear in the documentary, he would consent to the project. He gave Heymann his mother’s number and they met for a coffee. It took time to convince her she told him that she trusted him to do the film.
The director filmed across a period of eight years, following Agassi’s wild life as a global porn star. Jonathan Agassi is a symbol for this generation,” says Heymann. “He is young, gay and has the freedom and the luck to have any fantasies he wants without being in the closet.” As they worked, Heymann discovered the story of Agassi’s early life. “Jonathan Agassi was born with a very Hebrew name, Elkana Yonatan Langer, he was feminine and had a very tough childhood in one of the suburbs of Tel Aviv,” the filmmaker explains. “His father left him a year after he was born. He changed his name and built a strong character for himself. He met his father for the first time once he was living in Berlin as a porn star.”
The film is comprised entirely of original footage shot by Tomer and was funded by the Heymann brothers themselves with Israeli broadcaster Channel 8 (which will broadcast a four-part episodic version of the film), HOT, Makor Foundation and Mifal Hapais. The Heymann brothers have produced two versions of “Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life”. One contains uncensored X-rated footage and one doesn’t.

“DOLL IT UP”— Time for a Change

“DOLL IT UP” Time for a Change Amos Lassen Gunther (Timothy Cox) has had Natalie, a sex doll, for three years but feels that their “relationship” is not what it once was and so he buys a new doll, Dorri, that he not only loves but with whom he feels complete and that there is true love between the two of them. But Gunther is also a realist who knows that true love never lasts. When he learns that he was cheated on by the young wife, he wants the old wife back but soon sees that he lost them both.
Director Yalan Hu’s short comedy opens with Gunther celebrating his third anniversary with Natalie while realizing that he is no longer as happy with her as he once was. He decides to break up with her and quickly finds Dorri but he also faces the question of what true love is.  
I did not for a moment that Gunther’s “wives” were sex dolls which automatically moves this film into fantasy yet Timothy Cox is very human and very convincing as a husband. This provides for wonderful humor yet we know that there is something deeper here. Through dark comedy we look at modern changes in sexuality, fidelity, and relationship through satire that jokes about men who trade up their partners. It all happens over a very short period of time and I was reminded of how it was when I was growing up and it was traditional among my parents friends that every two years, they traded cars. It was like once the novelty wore off, it was time to move on.
In essence, this is a monologue with Gunther being the only real character and I could not help but wonder if that was saying something about there being no good roles for women. In fact, the lack of female actors says something about the way women are regarded. When Gunther speaks to his wife, he is actually talking to himself and we watch as Gunther becomes disenchanted with her and because she has become so familiar, he decides to replace her with a fresher and newer model. However, as the movie movies forward (all 6½ minutes), the sex dolls seem to develop minds. We also realize that Gunther we realize that Gunther is representative of others like him. What does this say about men in today’s world and what about the way they treat women? (Cox turns in his usual excellent performance and more important is that we are left with something to think about).

“ROOM 304”— Sex, Betrayal, Corruption

“ROOM 304” Sex, Betrayal, Corruption Amos Lassen In a Copenhagen hotel, sex, betrayal and corruption are everyday occurrences especially when nine disparate lives intersect by chance or fate. We see a hotel manager look at his empty life and this leads to devastating consequences for himself, his wife and his mistress. A Spanish stewardess seeks intimacy and finds it in a most unexpected way. A reserved concierge is forced out of his shell by a shocking event, and an Albanian refugee avenges his wife, but ends up discovering something surprising instead. Director Birgitte Staermose’s debut feature makes us think before reserving hotel accommodations.
This is a small film set in room 304 in a Copenhagen hotel during three days. It all begins with a gunshot and then takes us three days back in time. Before I realized it I found myself pulled into the plot and wanting to see how everything works out. At first I thought it was too predictable but was corrected as the movie moved forward. Hotels are extremely intimate and remarkably anonymous at the same time. When you are not at home, you create a kind of home in a hotel room, where you sleep in the same bed where a stranger has not been lying in front of you for long. What happens behind all those closed doors? If those walls could talk anyway … ‘Room 304’ is a thriller and a drama, in which the lives of both hotel guests and employees are often unsettled. artfully strung together in a somewhat artificial way. Eight languages ​​are spoken in this film; besides Danish we include English, German, Spanish, Albanian, Croatian and Philippine.
Everyone seems to have something on their side. Kasper (Mikael Birkkjaer), the owner of the hotel, has suffered a personal tragedy. In order to get rid of his grief, he deceived his wife Helene (Trine Dyrholm) with the manager of reception (Stine Stengade), whose love for another employee, Jonas (Magnus Krepper), has cooled down considerably. A lonely Spanish flight attendant (Ariadna Gil) has settled in the hotel to shift her mind, but it is not so easy to find someone in the bar for a fun one night stand. The dish washer Agim (Luam Jaha) has something else to his mind: he is determined to avenge the pain caused to his wife (Ksenija Marinkovic). The stiff receptionist Martin (David Dencik) is just stiff, When the Filipino chambermaid (Lourdes Faberes) finds a gun between the sheets, the lives of all these people are turned upside down.
We face the questions — Who belongs to whom, what is the order in which things happen and, above all, why does a character do what he does? making the film very complex and not very accessible, especially in the beginning. As more pieces fall into place and the mutual relationships and individual motivations become clear, ‘Room 304’ gains strength. Fates meet and intertwine in strange ways into a hotel in Copenhagen.

“THE FIFTH CORD”— A Modern Giallo Film

“The Fifth Cord” A Modern Giallo Film Amos Lassen “The Fifth Cord” is a visually stunning exploration of alienation and isolation. When a man barely survives a brutal assault on his way home from a New Year’s party, washed-up journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is assigned to report on the case. Before long, the maniac strikes again, this time with fatal results. As the body count rises, Andrea becomes suspect as well, making it even more imperative that he crack the case. His only clue lies in a series of black gloves found at the location
The atmosphere provides an entertaining mix of hard boiled American crime and thee rural charms of Agatha Christie. We meet Andrea Bild, a down and out journalist with a taste for cheap girls and bourbon. After a colorful New Year’s party, one of the guests is mugged and hospitalized. The victim is convinced it was in fact a murder attempt. There follows a series of vicious murders among the guests of the ill-fated New Year’s bash Andrea tries his best to cover the story but can only watch as one guest after another turns up murdered. The unknown assassin meanwhile promises contingency by leaving black gloves behind, the first with one finger cut off, the second with two. As Andrea struggles to rebuild an undefined past relationship, half-heartedly hold on to his job and behave generally ambivalent towards his soon to be married (not to him) girlfriend, he also has to clear his name and catch the real murderer. The assassin carries on seemingly to kill all the people who attended the party.
Director Luigi Bazzoni only seems really interested in the film as a vehicle for trying to break the consistency of every possible continuous action and creating memorable visuals. SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS   Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative   High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation   Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks   English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack   Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack   New audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford   Lines and Shadows, a new video essay on the film s use of architecture and space by critic Rachael Nisbet   Whisky Giallore, a new video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie   Black Day for Nero, a new video interview with actor Franco Nero   The Rhythm Section, a new video interview with film editor Eugenio Alabiso   Rare, previously unseen deleted sequence, restored from the original negative   Original Italian and English theatrical trailers   Image gallery   Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love   FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kat Ellinger and Peter Jilmstad

“THE POSSESSED”— Based on True Crime

“THE POSSESSED” Based on True Crime Amos Lassen “The Possessed” is an atmospheric proto-giallo based on one of Italy s most notorious crimes, the Alleghe killings. Peter Baldwin is Bernard, a depressed novelist who sets off in search of his old flame Tilde (Virna Lisi), a beautiful maid who works at a remote lakeside hotel. Bernard is warmly greeted by the hotel owner Enrico (Salvo Randone) and his daughter Irma (Valentina Cortese), but Tilde has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Bernard undertakes an investigation and is soon plunged into a disturbing drama of familial secrets, perversion, madness and murder…
Co-written by Giulio Questi and co-directed by Luigi Bazzoni, “The Possessed” combines film noir, mystery and giallo tropes, whilst also drawing on the formal innovations of 1960s art cinema (particularly the films of Michelangelo Antonioni). It is a unique dreamlike take on true crime. The plot is quite simple: a disaffected writer breaks up with his girlfriend and decides on a whim to revisit the resort where last Summer he had a pleasant time with Tilda, a hotel maid.  However, it’s winter now, the hotel is near-empty and Tilda’s dead. Bernard wanders through a gaudy ghost town, and he learns that Tilda’s death was ruled a suicide and in the same coroner’s report it says she died a virgin.    From a fairly standard tale of murder-and-cover-up, Co-director Bazzoni crafts a truly mysterious film, filled with tricky imagery and shifting narrative.
This is a film that uses the murder mystery as an abstraction, only there to provide a semi-sturdy foundation for a house built of half-remembered narrative occurrences, subtle misdirections and dreamlike flourishes of visual imagination. There’s a hefty amount of Antonioni sloshing around in its DNA, with hints of the French New Wave dancing through its airy atmosphere. It feels post-modern even though the visuals lie somewhere in-between Film Noir and British Gothic horror.

As the days go on, Bernard begins investigating Tilde’s death. He begins to feel ill, sporting a high fever. A memory keeps haunting Bernard, a memory of Tilde making love to an unseen man during the night. Was he the one who murdered her? Is it true that Enrico might have paid off the police to keep Tilde’s murder from going public? With little more than rumors, conjecture and a handful of hazy memories, Bernard seeks to stitch together the truth, even though it might lead to his own destruction.
What makes this such a fascinating piece of film is its main narrative convention, that of the unreliable narrator. Bernard is as much of a mystery to us as the murder of Tilde. Though he knows Enrico and his family from his years of spending summers at the hotel, they’re little more than passing acquaintances. Unlike your usual Amateur Detective tale, Tilde’s murder happened in the past and with the town all but empty, there’s no one for Bernard to question but the people he suspects. With nothing more than rumors from a man he barely knows to go on, Bernard begins to read guilt where guilt might not lie.
With only a single memory as a clue, Bernard begins to seek patterns out of nothingness. He descends into conspiracy thinking. As the film descends further down its complicated path, Bernard begins to come to the realization that the truth he is seeking might not be as simplistic as he hoped it would be.
It might just be that the woman whose death he is seeking to avenge, a woman he never really knew but grew to cherish through unrequited love, might not have been much of an angel after all. And it is here that we find the central conceit of the film— the nature of truth, the uncertainty of memory and the desire to solve what might be unsolvable, if for no other reason than to feel the satisfaction of some kind of closure. The film doesn’t end with closure of any substantial type, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It isn’t a film concerned with tying everything up. In the end, closure is elusive. SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS   Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative   High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation   Original Italian and English soundtracks, titles and credits   Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio   Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack   Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack   New audio commentary by writer and critic Tim Lucas   Richard Dyer on The Possessed – a newly filmed video appreciation by the cultural critic and academic   Cat s Eyes, an interview with the film’s makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi   Two Days a Week, an interview with the film’s award-winning assistant art director Dante Ferretti   The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers, an interview with actor/director Francesco Barilli, a close friend of Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni   Original trailers   Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips   FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andreas Ehrenreich, Roberto Curti and original reviews

“MY NAME IS JULIE ROSS”— The Morning After

“My Name Is Julia Ross” The Morning After Amos Lassen Joseph H. Lewis (“The Big Combo”) made his first film at Columbia and established himself as a director in this Gothic-tinged Hitchcockian breakout hit.  The morning after Julia Ross (Nina Foch) takes a job in London as secretary to wealthy widow Mrs. Williamson Hughes (Dame May Whitty), she wakes up in a Cornish mansion, having been drugged. Mrs. Hughes and her son, Ralph (George Macready), attempt to get Julia to believe she is Ralph’s wife, Marion. Her belongings have been destroyed, the windows are barred and the locals believe that she is mad. This is a quick paced and brilliantly stylized mystery that grabs its audience from the start and immediately cemented Lewis’s place as a director to watch.
We don’t necessarily have to believe in this devilishly clever if rather contrived and cheaply made ($175,000) exercise in style and suspense to find it extremely tense, chilling and satisfying.
The premise is quite simple but the way that it is carried out is glorious.  Nina Foch is totally convincing as the sometimes frightened, sometimes distraught Julia. She shows the requisite fear and, underneath, the tenacity to survive with no hysterics but with a contained inner terror that is totally palatable.  She is admirably supported by two normally contrasting personas of evil.  George Macready is the resident scar-faced villain that he plays with a glazed stare of insanity.
Julia makes several attempts to escape, but is always thwarted.  When three people arrive, including a Reverend Lewis, Julia mistakenly assumes they have found her note, and when she tells them she’s being held prisoner, Mrs. Hughes deftly convinces the visitors of her daughter-in-law’s mental instability.
Later, Julia writes a letter to Dennis and leaves it where it will be found.  Sure enough, after the mother has substituted a blank sheet of paper, Julia writers another letter that she is allowed to mail on a visit to the local village, accompanied by the watchful Ralph. When she inexplicably finds a black cat in her room, she figures there must be a secret passage—and finds one.  While hiding inside the wall space, she witnesses a scene between Ralph and his mother.  The son has killed his wife, the body presumably disposed of.  Julia, now established as his wife, is to take her place and die of nature causes.  Next, Julia fakes a suicide attempt and when a doctor arrives, she tells him her plight, including about the letter, only to discover that he isn’t a doctor but in on the plot. To say any more about the plot will ruin the viewing experience and there are more surprises to come.
The viewer might feel that “My Name Is Julia Ross” fails in at least one respect, that never for a moment does Julia doubt her identity—or maybe that’s a strength, since the villains must work all the harder to deceive her.  And from the opposite perspective, those same viewers never, in any of their own private moments, doubt that this woman is Julia Ross. SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:   High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation   Original uncompressed mono PCM audio   Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing   Commentary by noir expert Alan K. Rode   Identity Crisis: Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia – The Nitrate Diva (Nora Fiore) provides the background and an analysis of the film   Theatrical trailer   Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow   FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Adrian Martin

“LEAN ON PETE”— Boy and Horse

“Lean on Pete” Boy and Horse Amos Lassen
Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson wants a home, food on the table and a high school he can attend for more than part of the year. He is the son of a single father working in warehouses across the Pacific Northwest making stability is hard to find. Hoping for a new start, Charley and his father move to Portland, Oregon where Charley takes a summer job with a washed-up horse trainer and befriends a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete.
The story gets lost in the vastness of the landscapes, buffeting between genres and sometimes uncertain of what it wants to be. Yet, Haigh uses sincere melancholy that elevates Lean on Peteabove its faults, aided by a wonderful performance from Charlie Plummer.
Plummer is Charley, a 15 year old who speaks so softly that his words barely leave his body. His life is both familiar and original for a film like this and  the genuinely caring relationship between Charley and his single father (Travis Fimmel) is a rarity, and one that is very comforting to watch. It’s a refreshingly upbeat look at the working class before Charley gets a job at a racing track and Haigh pivots to a touching boy-and-his-horse story.
The film becomes an unfocused but powerful road movie after Charley gets some tragic family news and runs away with the horse, Pete. It’s a bold move, as it completely leaves behind two excellent performances from Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny, the trainer and jockey who own Pete. It’s not an entirely successful gamble, but there are still some superb scenes in this final third, like a chance encounter with two kind-hearted, horse-loving veterans in the desert and a terrifying moment in which Pete tries to bolt after being spooked. The title comes from the aging racehorse. It pans out as a great character study of people and horses,  but it doesn’t work as a children’s picture–it’s too haunting and downbeat. British filmmaker Andrew Haigh is writer and director of this emotionally moving unconventional arthouse poor boy meets poor horse drama that never becomes sentimental and ends in gloom. 

When Charlie and his dad move to Portland, they find the nearby third-rate local racetrack where he meets cranky but kind horse trainer Del (Steve Buscemi), who offers Charley part-time work cleaning the stables. At the job he learns a lot about caring for horses, while meeting others at the track he can relate to like the psychologically wounded jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny). Soon he forms a bond with the 5-year-old  quarter horse Lean on Pete and also a friendship with the jockey. As time passes, he sees the ugly side of the business, of how the horses become expendable when they can’t race any more, like Lean on Pete, and can be sold for horse meat in Mexico. This is too much for the kid, who thinks of the horse as a kindred spirit and thinks they both can escape from their destiny by going someplace else.
This is not a tearjerker because of the film’s gritty humor, prevailing horse sense and the way it keeps itself sparse. It’s a s coming-of-age drama, that is good at observing nature, people and animals in a lyrical way. It takes a familiar story and puts a different face on it and gets terrific performances from Pete, Charley and from a wonderfully complex character played by Buscemi. There’s also a catchy performance by Steve Zahn that comes in the second part.

“DICK CAVETT SHOW: AND THAT’S THE WAY IT IS”— The Icons of Network News

“Dick Cavett Show: And That’s The Way It Is” The Icons of Network News Amos Lassen Since 1968, Dick Cavett has hosted his own talk show, in a variety of formats and on a number of television and radio formats. What we have on “And That’s The Way it Is” were taken from episodes that aired between 1968 through 1996 and feature some of the best known news reporters of the era. News-people appearing include: Walter Leland Cronkite (November 4, 1916 – July 27, 2009: Cavett conducted two one-on-one conversations with Cronkite, October 16, 1974 and the other on March 11, 1982. Thomas John Brokaw (February 6, 1940) : Cavett and Brokaw chatted face to face on May 29, 1989 Daniel Irvin Rather (October 31, 1931): Rather and Cavett conducted their interview October 26, 1991 Myron Leon “Mike” Wallace (May 9, 1918 – April 7, 2012) : Mike Wallace was a participant on a Cavett panel that included Robert Klein, Joan Gans Johnson and Nicholas Johnson on June 30, 1970. Barbara Jill Walters (September 25, 1929): Walters was on a panel with Gig Young, Melvyn Douglas and fellow newscaster, Frank Reynolds, on October 15, 1970 Lila Diane Sawyer (December 22, 1945) : On November 18, 1985, Sawyer appeared on a panel with 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, Morley Safer and oddly, Teddy Ruxpin and Don Kingsborough (the man who introduced the Teddy Puxpin toy). Cavett is brilliant and a linguist. Many of his interviews are legendary. This 2-DVD set has almost 5 hours’ worth of interesting conversation. They come from the ABC series, the PBS series and the most recent is from 1991 (Dan Rather from the CNBC series.

In in some cases there was just one guest, while in others we get to see the news people along with others. A 1970 section with Mike Wallace also includes then FCC Chairman Nicolas Johnson plus Robert Klein and Joan Ganz Cooney (creator of Sesame Street). There are two Cronkite sections (1974 and 1982) – one in Cavett’s studio and another where Cavett goes to Cronkite’s New England summer home.

The earliest one – from 1970 – features a YOUNG Barbara Walters, Actors Melvyn Douglas and Gig Young, plus ABC newscaster Frank Reynolds (who seems to be uncomfortable). If you loved Cavett and want to watch a time capsule of what were current events, this is for you.

“THE CAPTAIN”— Based on a True Story

“The Captain” Based on a True Story Amos Lassen Robert Schwentke’s “The Captain” follows the true-life exploits of Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), a German soldier who deserted his post in World War II only to turn the Nazi machinery of mindless obedience on itself. The film opens two weeks before the end of the war in 1945 and Germany is chaotic and as concerned with prosecuting its own as it is with fighting the Allies. Herold evades his pursuers by fleeing into the countryside where he luckily stumbles upon a Luftwaffe captain’s uniform in an abandoned military vehicle. He wears the uniform for warmth at first but then uses it to impersonate a Nazi captain. He then  seizes control of Camp II, a prison camp for German deserters. There, Herold oversees the execution of men who should theoretically command his empathy.
The viewer is instinctually encouraged to sympathize with a man on the run from the Nazis and this makes it shocking when Herold shoots another deserter and looter point blank in the head in order to maintain his own lies. This wakes us up regarding the extent of Herold’s conviction in his new role. But Herold remains a cipher throughout the film, exhibiting few emotional reactions about anything. I saw him as a character who existentially emphasizes humankind’s primordial capacity for selfishness and arbitrary cruelty. This plays into the cliché of the Nazi as an unfeeling monster. Herold is a concept rather than a character, and so the film has nowhere to go aside from reminding us over and over again the hunted are prevented only by superficial status from turning into the hunters.
When Herold and his soldiers reach Camp II, which is in the midst of crisis, Schwentke gives us the specifics of the Nazi regime through hindsight and symbolism. Control of the prison camp is divided between the German military and the country’s justice department. Schütte (Bernd Hölscher) is the military’s top man at the camp, and he wishes to execute the prisoners without the court martial that he’s been awaiting. Hansen (Waldemar Kobus), the leader of the camp’s internal prison wing, sees this as a threat to his own power. Schütte and Hansen are recognizable everymen who have been conditioned by bureaucracy to reduce human atrocities to numbers and signifiers. “Schwentke recognizes an irony that’s familiar of the Holocaust and other campaigns of evil: that such vast cruelties are composed of minute actions that are governed by an everyday desire to honor protocol, to commit evil the “right way”.” These scenes are the high point of a film. The black-and-white cinematography and stark framing encourage one to take history as a given, playing into our preconceptions of how the Holocaust is supposed to look. In one fashion, Schwentke proves to be too complicit with his protagonist regarding evil and human banality as stimulation to tells us things we think we already know. What this is, I believe, is a farcical set-up to tell quite a brutal story.
The film has the structure of a classic mistaken-identity farce and the tone of a serial-killer film. It’s too bleak to laugh at and too absurd to cry over. It was an insane time in April 1945, months from the end of World War II and when exhausted German soldiers deserted the collapsing front in huge numbers. “Willi” Herold  has scarcely escaped death and after putting on the captain’s heavy overcoat to stay warm, Herold begins to clown around, taking both sides of a dialogue between his own self and an imperious Nazi officer. That’s when another lone private, Freytag (Milan Peschel), spies him from afar and assumes that he’s the real thing. This is a comedy with a single joke and that joke becomes larger and more consequential at every stage: to escape detection and certain death, the young Herold must not just pretend to be a captain, he must also exercise dominance over anyone liable to discover his secret. He is constantly challenged and he gets the better of his challengers, either by demanding to see their papers, announcing that he’s working directly for the Führer, or, eventually, ordering executions. His “Task Force Herold” is composed of ex-deserters now charged with finding and killing other deserters. Only little Freytag seems to understand the larger absurdity: that these men are in effect murdering themselves in a nihilistic endgame.
The film is in the face of our deeply held notions of individuality and free will: We’re convinced that both things exist, while Germans have learned from experience that “identity is elastic and most wills are too weak to escape the pull of prevailing norms.” There are “good” Germans in “The Captain” andamong them is the head of a prisoner camp who watches men dig burial pits for their own future corpses and demands to know on whose authority Captain Willi Herold is acting. But for every man who objects, there are more who murder with a sense of relief, on the assumption that a bullet in someone else means one less for them. It is lightly noted by a Nazi higher-up that, if nothing else, Willi Herold did much to “curb the defeatist mentality” in those he did not murder. We are left to contemplate this vision of Fascism as a machine that can sustain itself even in the absence of explicit directions.
 “The Captain” begins, in tonally rich black-and-white, with a desperate bedraggled soldier fleeing on foot as a jeep pursues him. We see a parable that shows that  even the smallest people can rise to the occasion when suddenly given authoritarian power to wield.