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The Unknown Soldier

German director Michael Verhoeven has made a career out of a willingness to explore the darkest era of his country’s history in films like The Nasty Girl and The White Rose. Now he turns his hand to nonfiction in a new documentary about the 1999 Wehrmacht Exhibition, a compilation of evidence that ordinary German soldiers had committed atrocities against civilians during World War II. Historians saw these allegations as the truth. Veterans and their children saw them as slander. Perhaps both were right. It’s impossible to tread much new ground in a movie about World War II Germany, and Verhoeven doesn’t really try. Instead, he just trains the camera on average Germans and allows them to talk through their collective guilt, and their weariness with that guilt. The film eventually becomes one long therapy session for the German nation as it struggles to understand how its brave and good soldiers could have done such bad, bad things. We, the viewers, are forced to take on the uncomfortable role of therapist, judging each speaker’s feelings against the evidence presented in the rest of the movie and trying to integrate hundreds of competing stories into an impossible whole.


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