The Ogre (1996 film)

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The Ogre
The Ogre FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
Produced by Gebhard Henke
Ingrid Windisch
Screenplay by Jean-Claude Carrière
Volker Schlöndorff
Based on The Erl-King 
by Michel Tournier
Starring John Malkovich
Gottfried John
Marianne Sägebrecht
Volker Spengler
Heino Ferch
Dieter Laser
Agnès Soral
Sasha Hanau
Vernon Dobtcheff
Simon McBurney
Ilja Smoljanski
Luc Florian
Laurent Spielvogel
Marc Duret
Philippe Sturbelle
Armin Mueller-Stahl
Music by Michael Nyman
Cinematography Bruno de Keyzer
Edited by Nicolas Gaster
Peter Przygodda
France 2 Cinéma
Héritage Films
Recorded Picture Company (RPC)
Renn Productions
Studio Babelsberg
Universum Film (UFA)
Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR)
Distributed by AMLF (1996, France)
Tobis Filmkunst (1996, Germany)
Kino International (1998, USA, all media)
Release dates
  • 12 September 1996 (1996-09-12)
Running time
118 min.
Country France
United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $49,166 (USA)[1]

The Ogre (German: Der Unhold) is a 1996 French-German drama film directed by Volker Schlöndorff and starring John Malkovich, Gottfried John, Marianne Sägebrecht, Volker Spengler, Heino Ferch, Dieter Laser and Armin Mueller-Stahl. It was written by Jean-Claude Carrière and Schlöndorff, based on the novel The Erl-King by Michel Tournier. The story follows a simple man who recruits children to be Nazis in the belief that he is protecting them.


Abel Tiffauges (Malkovich) is a simple Frenchman at the start of World War II, who loves animals and children. The first part of the film recalls his childhood at a Catholic school for boys, in where he wishes to Saint Christopher that the school, which he sees as a prison, is burned down. By irony of fate, while Abel is being disciplined for spilling lamp oil on the chapel floor, his friend Nestor accidentally sets fire to the building, burning it down as he wished. From that day on, Abel is convinced that fate is on his side, and that it will protect him from anything.

It is 1940 as Abel now narrates, and he is working as a car mechanic in Paris. His hobby is photography, in where he photographs the local children. But on one occasion where a girl named Martine takes his camera, he tells her off, upsetting her. She then accuses him of assaulting her, which although he did not at all, the police believe her, and he is put on trial. Fortunately for Abel, a war against Germany has broken out, and soldiers are urgently needed on the front. As a punishment for his uncommitted crime, he is sent to the army to fight off the invader.

However, it is not long before France surrenders, and Abel and his comrades are sent to a camp in East Prussia. Whilst not working, Abel goes down to the forest to a hunting cabin where he feeds a blind moose. One day, he encounters a German officer who is curious about his affinity for animals. Several weeks later, the officer returns to Abel, and removes him from the camp. He takes him to Hermann Göring's hunting lodge, where he now has a job looking after the animals on the estate. When Göring (Spengler) arrives, at first he seems cheerful and friendly, but it is soon realized that he is sadistic, bombastic and mentally unstable. After hearing news that he is needed in Berlin because of the failure on the Russian Front, he dismisses the whole company at the lodge, and so Abel loses his job. However, the officer allows him to have a job at the nearby Kaltenborn Castle, a military academy for boys.

At the castle, he instantly proves popular with the boys, and is treated by the staff as a privileged servant. One day, he is out riding, and he comes across a group of boys on holiday. He tells them of life in the castle and they follow him back. Impressed, the SS give him the job of recruiting local boys into the academy. Although he is successful, he soon learns from the castle housekeeper, Mrs. Netta, that the locals are afraid of him for taking the boys, and that they have published pamphlets telling parents to watch out for "The Ogre", his acquired nickname. Abel begins to develop doubts about his work. Several days later, a boy is left horribly burned during training from standing behind a firing rocket launcher, making Abel yet more resentful towards the Nazis. Soon after, the owner of the academy Count Kaltenborn (Mueller-Stahl), is revealed to have been part of a plot to kill Hitler, and is to be executed. Meanwhile, news has broken out that the Russian army has crossed the border, and the officers in charge of the castle, as well as the oldest boys training there, are sent out to the front line.

One night while out riding, Abel finds a column of prisoners being taken through the forest, and sees one being shot by a German soldier. When they have gone he approaches the road and finds that it is littered with dead bodies. In the mess he finds a boy named Ephraim, who is just about alive, and takes him to the castle, where he hides him in the attic. With all the officers dead, Abel is soon in charge of the castle, but having realized that defeat is inevitable, and that Hitler is not worth fighting or dying for, he orders the boys to evacuate. In their fervour they refuse and knock him unconscious as the Russians approach the castle, when shortly after a group of German veterans enter to take command.

That night, Abel regains consciousness and returns to the attic. The Russians soon arrive, and Abel tries to surrender the castle, but is nearly shot by a German who wants to fight. As the battle begins, Abel finds Ephraim and leaves the castle with him while it is burned down and the garrison is killed. They escape across the marshes safely, with Abel recalling the tale of St. Christopher, and the scene fades to black.


Schlöndorff's idea to create the film originally stemmed from his want to create a sequel to his 1979 film The Tin Drum, since the film only covered part of the Günter Grass novel on which it was based, but the main cast member David Bennent had grown out of the role and Schlöndorff was unwilling to recast the role. Schlöndorff decided that Tournier's novel reflected his specific interest in the war in particular. Filming began in 1995 on location in Malbork and Paris, with Ezio Frigerio as production designer, who intentionally made the sets look as if they were from a fairytale.[2] Michael Nyman wrote the soundtrack, three years after his huge international success with The Piano.


Although filmed in English, The Ogre was not initially released in the United Kingdom or the U.S. It subsequently had limited theatrical release in the U.S. in 1998-1999[3] and was made available on DVD by Kino International. It generally received positive reviews on its cinema release and DVD release, and currently holds an 89% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


The Ogre
design by Dave McKean
Soundtrack album by Michael Nyman
Released 1996
Genre Soundtrack, Film score, Minimalist music, Contemporary classical
Length 59:03
Label Virgin Venture
Director Michael Nyman
Producer Michael Nyman
Michael Nyman chronology
After Extra Time
The Ogre
Enemy Zero

The score is composed by Michael Nyman and features strictly brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments by members of the Michael Nyman Band. The music was rerecorded by Wingates Band, with the woodwind parts transcribed for brass, on the 2006 album, Nyman Brass.

Track listing[edit]

  1. Knights at School (6.58)
  2. Child Bearer (5.26)
  3. Abel's Fate (1.44)
  4. Meeting the Moose (4.58)
  5. Magic Forest (1.31)
  6. Into the Woods (1.40)
  7. Göering's Hunting Party (3.43)
  8. Göering's Gotterdämmerung (2.49)
  9. Masuria (2.03)
  10. Abel's List (2.07)
  11. Beware of the Ogre (4.01)
  12. Death Marches (3.24)
  13. Night Moves (1.23)
  14. Abel's Revolt (5.34)
  15. Abel Carries Ephraim (5.56)
  16. End Titles (5.52)


  • Artist representative for Michael Nyman: Nigel Barr
  • Photographs of Michael Nyman by The Douglas Brothers
  • Design and illustration by Dave McKean@Hourglass


  1. ^ Business for The Ogre IMDb
  2. ^ Michael Nyman Soundtrack "The Ogre" information sheet
  3. ^ Stack, Peter (August 13, 1999). "Haunting `Ogre' of Innocence, Evil". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-08-31. 

External links[edit]