After a 10-year hiatus, German helmer Michael Verhoeven (“The Nasty Girl”) returns to filmmaking with historical docu “The Unknown Soldier.” Pic reprises Verhoeven’s favorite theme, Germans’ relationship to the Holocaust, this time with reference to a well-known museum exhibition exploring war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht during WWII. Somewhat rambling but sturdily researched, docu could make itself known at select fests before finding its natural homeland on TV.
The exhibition, “Crimes of the German Wehrmacht,” first displayed in Munich in 1997 and revised in 2001, stirred up controversy by illustrating the participation of ordinary soldiers in acts of genocide on the Eastern Front. Footage shot by Verhoeven’s team and newscasters at the time shows outraged reaction from former soldiers, soldiers’ families and neo-Nazis who still insist the majority of the German infantry knew nothing of these crimes against humanity. Key exhibition organizer Hannes Heer and other historians defend their allegations robustly, backed up by archive material and original interviews with witnesses of Wehrmacht war crimes in Ukraine and Belarus. Focus is blurred by a snowstorm of facts and photos, but aim is essentially laudable and result competently made.