‘I want to protect children from grown-ups.’
Though not among his best, this is surely another powerful and critical war statement by Volker Schlondorff. Like ‘The Tin Drum’, this is personal journey, not of a boy but a French man named Abel nicknamed in public as ‘The Ogre’. Born at the turn of twentieth century, his fate keeps playing dirty tricks with his life from its very birth. He’s thrown away child imparting education in school until he made an unpleasant wish and the burnt school take the toil of his best friend. Escaped from school and growing as young man occupied with cars and camera, he faced another unwanted peril. The punishment transported him to war zone of Second World War. The arduous journey of the man keeps shifting from POW to great hunter company of whimsical German field officer, military school and finally a tragic self realization. The film is both personal journey of titled protagonist seeking redemption and critical historical statement of innocence robbed.
The film starts making impact and grew intense in the second half where Abel starts collecting young kids from countryside to enroll in military school to see how they’re brainwashed with false national pride adding glory to Fuehrer’s egoistic battle. Children of play age were being trained and sent to the war front to fight the battle tank at such a tender age. The realization of ugly reality came too late. The climax is striking and shocking tragedy with redemptive grace.
Wonderfully shifted between usual chronological unfolding of plot and first person narrative and between B&W documentary like real & fictional footage and color filming, the film is surely one of well made Schlondorff film of his later career, if not his best. Schlondorff dedicated the film to Louis Malle, trying to make another ‘The Tin Drum’ kind of powerful war epic and succeed in it to certain extent. The screenplay here is penned by Jean Claude Carriere, the man who wrote those brilliant & best films of Bunuel’s shining career. This is the second collaboration between Schlondorff and John Malkowich, after fine adaptation of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of Salesman’ and this time with all his mature character act Malkowich nailed it hard to screen. This is surely his one of that extraordinary act of lifetime.