The Ogre

  • 1996
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama, War

The seductiveness of Nazism is explored through the eyes of a simpleton in this 1996 fairy-tale history of World War II, directed by Volker Schlondorff and based on Michel Tournier's 1970 novel The Erl King. Orphaned Abel (John Malkovich) grows up in a strict French orphanage, a lonely, fanciful youngster whose only friend dies in a fire that Abel believes...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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The seductiveness of Nazism is explored through the eyes of a simpleton in this 1996 fairy-tale history of World War II, directed by Volker Schlondorff and based on Michel Tournier's 1970 novel The Erl King. Orphaned Abel (John

Malkovich) grows up in a strict French orphanage, a lonely, fanciful youngster whose only friend dies in a fire that Abel believes he wished into existence. By 1939 he's grown into an introverted, childlike adult whose best friends are still children, and who nurses the secret belief that he's

protected from the world's random cruelty by his magical relationship with fate. He hopes to extend that protection to his young friends, and is stricken when a small girl accuses him of having molested her. Abel is saved from prison by the war: He's sent to the front, captured almost immediately

and sent to a German POW camp, where his guileless ignorance of politics and near-mystical rapport with nature conspire to propel him into a series of bizarre adventures. He assists Field Marshall Herman Goering's (Volker Spengler) gameskeeper (Gottfried John), is exposed to heroic Teutonic myths

by a renegade German aristocrat (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and winds up "recruiting" -- kidnapping might be more like it -- children for a Hitler youth camp. As a German, Schlondorff has a particular interest in the hold Nazism exerted over his parents' generation, and as the director of THE TIN DRUM

he has some experience with German magical realism (however much that sounds like a contradiction in terms). His Abel is a Candide-like naif, a Forrest Gump whose benevolent simple-mindedness allows him to be participate in monstrous acts without becoming a monster himself. The international

cast's jarring mix of accents works against the film's delicate tone, as does Malkovich's flat, affectless performance. But it's never uninteresting, and it's occasionally darkly haunting.

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  • Released: 1996
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The seductiveness of Nazism is explored through the eyes of a simpleton in this 1996 fairy-tale history of World War II, directed by Volker Schlondorff and based on Michel Tournier's 1970 novel The Erl King. Orphaned Abel (John Malkovich) grows up in a st… (more)

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