The Unknown Soldier

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "The Unknown Soldier." 

First Run Features

NEW YORK -- In this documentary, German director Michael Verhoeven applies a nonfiction approach to themes explored in such films as "The White Rose" and the Oscar-nominated "The Nasty Girl."

This exploration of the uproar stirred up in Germany by a touring exhibition that made the case for the complicity of ordinary soldiers in the Holocaust lacks stylistic distinction, but the relevancy and importance of its subject matter more than compensate. "The Unknown Soldier" is playing at New York's Quad Cinema.

The Wehrmacht exhibition, which began in 1997 Munich and proceeded to tour German cities for the next several years, was a wake-up call to a country that had long comforted itself with the idea that only specific entities of Hitler's military forces carried out the policy of mass extermination.

Using home movies, photographs and documents, the exhibition made a strong case that many German soldiers were not only aware of what was going on but also took part in it without hesitation.

Needless to say, the exhibit stirred great controversy, which Verhoeven elucidates with interviews with many of the historians who contributed to it, as well as those who oppose its assertions. Ordinary citizens, including several military vets, weigh in as well, often in turbulent fashion.

The film's momentum becomes somewhat bogged down by the daunting procession of talking heads, and the issues are not always made clear enough for those not intimately familiar with World War II history. But ultimately "Unknown Soldier" emerges as a complicated and troubling portrait of the diverse aspects of the German national psyche.

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