Friday, May 27, 2011


Practically every review I've run across of this film says that it was ahead of its time, and it was. It's billed as a re-enactment of an historical event, but today a re-enactment tends to mean one of those rather awful documentary shows on the History Channel which have actors presenting the destruction of Pompeii or a Civil War battle, done with a low budget, bad script, and overbearing narration. This is artfully done; it does more than just follow the facts, but resists the temptation to make a melodrama with fully fleshed-out characters and big actor turns. The event is an attack on a German radio station in August of 1939, supposedly carried out by a Polish commando unit but actually staged by Nazis as an excuse to invade Poland--the action which started World War II. The main character is Nazi officer Alfred Naujocks (played by Hannjo Hasse) who masterminded the incident and who gave testimony about it after the war at Nuremberg. We watch as he collects six soldiers-in-training who have spent time in Poland and can speak the language, and prepares them for their mission. One of the men goes to the radio station, posing as an engineering troubleshooter, to scope out the place. A Polish prisoner (Hilmar Thate, pictured) is chosen to be a fall guy; complete with fake credentials, he will be left dead at the scene, supposedly one of the commandos killed by the SS when they respond to the attack.

There aren't any real surprises as everything goes pretty much as planned. We spend a lot of time with the prisoner (though I don't think he has any dialogue) especially in a long scene showing him being driven blindfolded to the radio station. There are no real character insights, though we do get a strange (and to my mind, misguided) flashback scene that seems to try to explain the character of Naujocks. The director, Gerhard Klein, has a keen visual sense, using lots of artfully composed close-ups and off-kilter shots, and though not a lot happens here in terms of narrative, the film is never boring (perhaps partly because it's very short, around 70 minutes). Very interesting and unusual. [DVD]

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