The Ogre (film)

The Orge
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
Starring John Malkovich
Editing by Peter Przygodda

The Ogre (German: Der Unhold) is a 1996 film based on the 1970 French novel by Michel Tournier, Le Roi des aulnes (English: The Ogre a.k.a. The Erl King). Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, it stars John Malkovich as 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 time of World War II, who loves animals and children. The first part of the film recalls him at a Catholic school for boys, in where after wishing to Saint Christopher that the school, which he sees as a prison, is burned down. By irony of fate, before he made the wish, he was in assembly, where he was trading with another boy for a lamp for his friend Nestor but drops the bottle of lighting fluid, spilling fuel everywhere. While Abel is going to the rector's office for being caught, Nestor lights the lamp in assembly, but drops it as is goes off in his face. The lamp hits the ground and lands on the spilled fuel, setting the school on fire just as Abel wished. From that day on, Abel is convinced that fate is on his side, and that it will protect him from anything.

It is 1939 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 off to a camp in East Prussia for labour duty. Whilst not working, Abel sometimes 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 Goering's hunting lodge, where he now has a job looking after the animals on the estate. When Goering (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 the life for the others in the castle, and how wonderful it is for them, and so they go back with him. 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 because he was 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 people being taken through the forest, and witnesses someone 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. 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.


The Ogre was not released in the United Kingdom or the USA. It generally received positive reviews on its cinema release and DVD release by Kino Video, and currently holds an 89% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes.


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

  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)


  • Music editor: Martin Elliott
  • Produced by Michael Nyman
  • Recorded at Landsdowne Studios
  • Mixed at Landsdowne Studios
  • Edited at Metropolis Studios
  • Engineer Michael J. Dutton
  • Artist representative for Michael Nyman: Nigel Barr
  • Photographs of Michael Nyman by The Douglas Brothers
  • Design and illustration by Dave McKean@Hourglass

External links

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