Three-hour costume drama based on the 19th century legend/mystery is not inspired, but it’s helped by epic feel, good performances, plenty of pathos and the status of Kasper Hauser as one of Germany’s favorite legends of the Romantic Age. Echoes of the most famous film rendition of the story — Werner Herzog’s 1974 outing with Klaus Kinski — may bode well for theatrical business in a shortened version.
In 1828, a “wild boy” was found in Nuremberg. Rate at which the apparent half-idiot learned to talk, read and write excited all of Europe, and as he began remembering parts of his youth — he claimed he was kept in a prison-like hole his first 16 years — several theories arose about his origins.
While some said he was a fake, another theory evolved that he was the true heir to the Dukedom of Baden and the victim of a complicated court intrigue. He was murdered under mysterious circumstances some years later, which inspired even more speculation.
Hauser’s true identity remains unknown. That the Baden court, to this day, will not release the documents generated in the original investigations has inspired director-writer Peter Sehr to compare the case to the JFK assassination.
Unlike Oliver Stone, however, Sehr attempts to tell the story from both perspectives. He starts with the struggle for the Baden throne and reveals the intrigues that spirited away the infant heir. Thus he solves the mystery before it arises, then goes on to tell the story of Hauser, the ultimate victim of circumstances beyond his control.
Weak points include a number of plodding stretches (most notably Hauser’s education), the recurring question of who is the main character — Hauser or his torturers — and confusion toward the end, when intrigues, supporting characters and subplots pile up so high that it’s not clear which of the many parties actually kills Hauser. For the most part, however, the story works in an unambitious, functional way.
Ironically, since it was originally intended for TV, main attraction is the pic’s epic scope, which is achieved in large part by expanding a relatively small unsolved mystery to include a number of warring dukedoms. Costuming, lensing and score are all excellent.
Though Kaspar Hauser looks like an unappetizing human vegetable, in many scenes Andre Eisermann manages to inject the role with snappy, unexpected humor and downplayed pathos. Fact that character is completely passive, a victim who never once figures out what’s going on and can’t even try to fight against his fate, makes Eisermann’s performance all the more noteworthy.