Germany, France, Poland


Based on the arresting true story of the Executioner of Emsland, THE CAPTAIN follows a German army deserter, Willi Herold, after he finds an abandoned Nazi captain’s uniform in the final weeks of World War II.
Emboldened by the authority the uniform grants him, he amasses a band of stragglers who cede to his command despite the suspicions of some. Citing direct orders from the Fuhrer himself, he soon takes command of a camp holding German soldiers accused of desertion and begins to dispense harsh justice. Increasingly intoxicated by the
unquestioned authority, this enigmatic imposter soon discovers that many people will blindly follow the leader, whomever that happens to be.

Director's Statement

Almost 70 years after the fact, the harsh brutalities of World War II still elicit incomprehension and dismay. By present-day standards, the violent acts committed seem abnormal, psychopathic, horrific.

But horror is a moral, not an analytical concept.

In order to explain Willi Herold’s actions we have to understand the world he lived in and not just our own world. We need to go beyond mere moral responses and experience the world from his point of view. Non-morally, so to speak, see what he saw, feel what he felt.

Aesthetically this does not mean the fetishizing of authenticity so common in historical films. “This is how it was!” is the mantra intoned, ignoring the fundamental fact that authenticity in cinema is always an illusion created by a team of filmmakers. Getting an era’s license plates right just isn’t enough.
Our audience needs to experience Herold’s historical, psychological and social reality directly, viscerally, emotionally. This story won’t be told from the outside in, but from the inside out. We will fully immerse the audience in Herold’s state of mind.

Our goal is not to justify or forgive Herold’s actions by contextualizing them, or worse: by introducing a moral relativism - but to understand the frame of reference which made these actions possible and so arrive at the general through the specific:

Herold’s highly particularised perspective of a specific historical event allows us to glimpse a universal truth about the human condition in wartimes -- past and present.
The continuity of violence connects all ages and cultures: Germany, Yugoslavia, Africa - most recently Syria, Eritrea and Ethiopia. The layer of civilization covering the call of blood remains paper thin.

As the excesses of WW II pass from memory into history, are we any closer to understand why, or even how, they happened? The same can be asked about any one of the conflicts mentioned above. Neither has violence disappeared from societies considering themselves fundamentally nonviolent. It exists at all times as both a fact and a possibility and as such plays a major role in human imaginations.

In our film this continuity is expressed by featuring purposefully anachronistic sights: images of a contemporary Germany, both specific historical sites and ordinary, everyday environments.

This second temporal plane is also a response to the aforementioned fetishizing of authenticity. The fact that this movie is an object made in the year 2017, by filmmakers looking at the past with a certain historical perspective, will be an integral part of its visual strategy: we admit to the illusion of cinema.

There is another continuity that connects our world to that of the past: the act of renaming and the use of euphemism and their power to efface actual cruelties. "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs" was Stalin's apology for revolution and forced modernization in the 1930s.

If one extreme of euphemism comes from naturalizing the cruelties of power, the opposite extreme arises from a nerve-deadening understatement:
Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire: this is called pacification. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die in camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.

The phrases are colorless by design and not by accident. There is a deliberate method in the imprecision of texture -- the mode of their nonmeaning is the point. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Director's Biography

1968 born in Stuttgart
1987 high-school diploma at Gottlieb-Daimler Gymnasium in Stuttgart
1987-1989 study of Philosophy and Comparative Literature, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
1989-1993 study of Film Production, Columbia College Los Angeles
1993 B.A. Film Production
1993-1994 study of Directing, American Film Institute Los Angeles
1994 M.F.A. Directing
since 1995 international freelance director and screenwriter

2017 Der Hauptmann // The Captain (script and director)
2016 The Divergent Series: Allegiant (director)
2015 The Divergent Series: Insurgent (director)
2014 The Novice - Pilot (director)
2013 R.I.P.D. (director)
2010 R.E.D. (director)
2009 The Time Traveler‘s Wife (director)
2009 Lie to Me (TV series) - Pilot (director)
2005 Flightplan (director)
2003 Eierdiebe (script and director)
2002 Tattoo (script and director)
2001 Tatort - Mördergrube (script)
1999 Tatort - Drei Affen (script)
1998 Tatort - Bildersturm (script)

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Robert Schwentke

Written by: Robert Schwentke

Produced by: Frieder Schlaich, Irene von Alberti

Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus

Editing: Michał Czarnecki

Production Design: Harald Turzer

Costume Design: Magdalena Rutkiewicz-Luterek

Make-Up & Hair: Doreen Kindler

Original Score: Martin Todsharow

Sound Design: Andre Bendocchi-Alves, Martin Steyer

Visual Effects: Jörn Großhans

Cast: Frederick Lau (Kipinski), Bernd Hölscher (Schütte), Alexander Fehling (Junker), Waldemar Kobus (Hansen), Max Hubacher (Willi Herold), Milan Peschel (Freytag)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Sound Designer 2018
  • Feature Film Selection 2018