In 1966, a former gymnast returns to his hometown Danzig, which is now a part of Poland. He begins to reflect on one of his classmates, Joachim Mahlke, who disappeared during World War II. Mahlke was initially marked as an outsider due to his oversized Adam’s apple, but when he turned out to be a great diver, the in-crowd embraced him. Then he steals a Knight’s Cross from a soldier and is expelled from school. Volunteering for war service, he earns a medal himself and hopes his reputation will be rehabilitated. But the school principal refuses and Mahlke deserts from the army … Almost no other film of the “young German cinema” era was as controversial as this loose adaptation of a novella by Günter Grass. The political right alleged “desecration” of the Knight’s Cross and it was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry and ministerial attempts to censure it. The scandal was exacerbated by the fact that two of Willy Brandt’s sons acted in the film and, undeservedly, the contretemps drew far more attention than the film’s innovative “nouvelle vague” aspects, which included an ironic attitude and modern creative techniques such as the narrative interweave of past and present.
by Hansjürgen Pohland
with Lars Brandt, Peter Brandt, Claudia Bremer, Wolfgang Neuss
Germany (Federal Republic from 1949) /1967