Switzerland’s burden of quasi-collaborator guilt in the aftermath of World War II is the central theme of this thought-provoking, black-and-white film directed by Laurent Nègre. Drawing inspiration from the real-life story of Hans Frölicher, the Swiss ambassador to Nazi Germany during the war, the movie delves into the complexities of evasion and denial. It also takes cues from Thomas Hürlimann’s stage-play, The Envoy, which touches upon the same subject matter.
Set in 1945, the film follows the fictional character Heinrich Zwygart, portrayed by Michael Neuenschwander, who embodies the role of the Swiss ambassador. Zwygart returns to Switzerland after years of serving in Nazi Germany, burdened by both physical and emotional exhaustion, exemplified by his alcohol addiction. Despite his personal struggles, Zwygart maintains a composed and correct demeanor in public, as is expected of a Swiss public figure and civil servant. Sensing the possibility of becoming a scapegoat for Switzerland’s controversial relationship with the Nazi regime, Zwygart devises a plan to exhibit his unwavering patriotism by becoming just as obsequious to the Americans as he was to the Germans.
To Zwygart’s surprise, his fellow Swiss appear relieved that their idyllic paradise of neutrality remains intact, seemingly untouched by the horrors of the war. His father, an old and cantankerous soldier, staunchly upholds the myth that Hitler refrained from invading Switzerland due to the country’s swift mobilization and constant state of readiness. However, Zwygart secretly despises Switzerland’s « toy soldiers » and harbors a different theory: Hitler avoided Switzerland because it served as a discreet banker for the Germans, facilitating loans at reduced prices or even free of charge to support the Nazi war effort. Switzerland had been a useful financial ally to the party long before the war began.
Zwygart himself played a central role in this arrangement and notably chose not to appeal for a pardon in the case of Maurice Bavaud, a Swiss student who attempted to assassinate Hitler in 1938 and was subsequently executed. Now haunted by hallucinatory visions of this righteous would-be assassin, Zwygart questions his own place in history. These jump-scare sequences, emerging from the ambassador’s troubled subconscious, provide a captivating element to the film, reminiscent of a theatrical production.
Overall, « A Forgotten Man » is a watchable film, although it occasionally feels staged. Its exploration of Switzerland’s postwar guilt and the complexity of personal choices in times of crisis allows viewers to reflect on the moral intricacies faced by a nation grappling with its own past.
– Switzerland’s burden of quasi-collaborator guilt after World War II
– Film inspired by the real-life Swiss ambassador to Nazi Germany, Hans Frölicher, and Thomas Hürlimann’s stage-play, The Envoy
– Story revolves around the character Heinrich Zwygart, a fictional Swiss ambassador
– Zwygart returns to Switzerland in 1945, troubled and haunted
– He plans to prove his patriotism by being sycophantic to the Americans
– Fellow Swiss maintain their belief in Switzerland’s neutral paradise
– Zwygart believes Switzerland remained uninvaded due to its role as a discreet banker for the Nazis
– Zwygart declined to appeal for a pardon in the case of Maurice Bavaud, a Swiss student who attempted to assassinate Hitler
– Zwygart experiences hallucinatory visions of Bavaud
– Film is watchable but occasionally feels staged