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Film / Rommel

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The lost hopes from the seas fell a tyrant's most feared general.
"We are also responsible for our own obedience!"
Hannah Arendt

Rommel is a 2012 made-for-television German war film written and directed by Niki Stein (under the Pen Name Nikolaus Stein von Kamienski) and produced by Nico Hofmann, Arianne Krampe, Jürgen Schuster and Sascha Schwingel.

It chronicles the last seven months of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who has been sent to command Army Group B on the Western Front in France. He is responsible for fortifying the Atlantic Wall, an extensive system of coastal defences built to prevent an Allied invasion through the English Channel. All the while he has to contend with skeptical superiors, his increasingly strained relationship with his beloved Führer Adolf Hitler and a band of plotters aiming to get his support in killing and overthrowing Hitler.

The film's All-Star Cast includes Ulrich Tukur as the titular Desert Fox, Benjamin Sadler as Dr. Hans Speidel, Aglaia Szyszkowitz as Lucie-Maria Rommel, Hanns Zischler as Gerd von Rundstedt, Vicky Krieps as the Comtesse La Rochefoucauld and Johannes Silberschneider as Adolf Hitler.

It was originally released on November 1, 2012.

Rommel provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: In Real Life, Rommel, Daniel, Aldinger and Holke weren't the only ones in the staff car during the air attack on July 17, 1944. Also in the car was a major named Neuhaus, who was wounded in the strafing, and another of Rommel's aides, Hellmuth Lang is in Aldinger's place.
  • Armchair Military: As overall commander of the army group in Normandy, Rommel commands troops from his headquarters in a nearby castle, but makes an effort to visit them at the front whenever he can and assess the situation of the Atlantic Wall.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The movie starts with Burgdorf and Maisel's staff car traveling through the woods to Rommel's house on October 14, 1944 in Germany. However, the trees lining the road have fully green leaves, which is out of place as it was autumn and not spring in October 1944.
  • Artistic License – History: In Real Life, Tempelhoff accompanied Rommel home before D-Day and was not present at his field headquarters for the Normandy landings. This isn't shown in the film where he and Aldinger are present with Speidel overseeing the dummy campaign before the actual landings take place.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • All generals in the German Army wore ornate collar patches known as arabesques. In 1941, field marshals were authorized to wear special arabesques with three rather than two iterations of the same pattern. Many marshals promoted before this point (and some after) chose not to trade in their two-pattern arabesques for three-patterns or did so only on their dress uniforms. Those who chose the former like Rommel and Rundstedt wear three-pattern arabesque in the film, presumably to differentiate them from lower-ranked generals.
    • The 21st Army is mentioned as a possible support unit for Normandy, but their commander is in Paris with his lover. However, the 21st Army doesn't exist at this point - it was created in April 1945, close to a year after the Normandy landings. Additionally, it was on the Eastern Front instead of the Western Front. The only notable formation numbered 21 in the area is the 21st Panzer Division, whose commander was in Paris during the Normandy landings.
  • Assassination Attempt: The film's climax centers around the plot to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944, with many conspirators trying to gain Rommel's support. Plotters led by Stülpnagel are tasked with arresting all Nazi and SS officials in the city per the military operation Valkyrie, once they get the go-ahead from plotters in Berlin. In fact, the coup is far more successful in Paris than it is in Berlin, at least until it's confirmed Hitler survived the bomb explosion at the Wolf's Lair. The resulting wave of arrests sees the deaths of Hofacker, Stülpnagel, von Kluge and most unfortunately Rommel himself.
  • Big Bad: Adolf Hitler, leader of the tyrannical Third Reich and supreme commander of the German Army.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: Just about all the characters are part of the Nazi government, and politics plays fairly heavily into the events of the film. Rommel does not directly report to Hitler but habitually tries to, putting him into conflict with superiors like Rundstedt and Kluge.
  • Big Good: Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, de facto leader of the 20 July plotters in Berlin and chief of staff to Replacement Army commander Friedrich Fromm. On the side of the Western Allies, Bernard Law Montgomery serves as one of severalnote .
  • The Chains of Commanding: The turning tide of the Second World War takes its toll on everyone involved, especially Rommel. With mounting pressure and dissatisfaction from opportunistic higher-ups like Rundstedt, Hitler's overbearing expectations, the scrutiny of the fanatically loyal SS and the urging of the 20 July plotters to join their cause wears down Rommel's resolve in spite of his attempts to remain positive. Pressure from the Allies getting closer and closer to liberating France only worsens the situation. Then the 20 July plot fails and it's downhill from there...
  • Co-Dragons: As would be customary for Hitler, his inner circle serves as one. Wilhelm Keitel and Ernst Kaltenbrunner play major roles in the plot, while Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring are relegated to silent background appearances. On a more minor note, Rudolf Schmundt and later Wilhelm Burgdorf also serve as this in their capacity as Hitler's chief military adjutant.
  • Command Roster: Rommel's staff takes this role for the film, as do his superiors:
    • The Neidermeyer: Gerd von Rundstedt, later Günther von Kluge (supreme commander in the West)
    • The Captain: Erwin Rommel (commander of Army Group B)
    • Number Two: Hans Speidel (Rommel's chief of staff and Translator Buddy), Hans-Georg von Tempelhoff (Rommel's operations officer)
    • The Dragon: Hermann Aldinger (Rommel's adjutant)
    • Ace Driver: Karl Daniel (Rommel's driver)
  • Corpse Land: Most of the Normandy beaches as Operation Overlord progresses, as well as a battlefield near Caen. A German soldier trapped underneath a destroyed tank commits suicide in the midst of such a massacre.
  • Cyanide Pill: How two major characters kill themselves, though zig-zagged for the former. Field Marshal Kluge swallows potassium cyanide en route to meeting Hitler in Berlin to avoid retribution for his role in the 20 July plot and Rommel is made to take one for his alleged role in the aforementioned plot in exchange for his family's safety.
  • Death from Above: This being World War II, aerial bombardment is very common in Rommel's area of operations. He and his staff are constantly subject to the threat of being hit by machine gun fire when driving on open road. Rommel barely misses a strafing by Allied aircraft at the beginning of the film (at the expense of an armored truck). The next time he is not so lucky, losing his driver and sustaining serious injuries on July 17, 1944.
  • Decisive Battle: The Battle of Normandy. The German defeat in this battle signals the beginning of the end for the Nazis in Western Europe as the Allies begin reclaiming occupied territory, and rapidly disintegrates the briefly regained trust between Hitler and Rommel.
  • Downer Ending: Rommel dies at the end of the film, depriving Nazi Germany of one of its best generals, Hitler survives his attempted assassination and has many involved arrested, including Speidel, and the Western Front is rapidly collapsing.
  • Dramatic Thunder: A loud clap of thunder forces a nearby window in Rommel's headquarters open, startling Kluge and Model who were discussing the former's relief of command. Immediately after closing the window, Speidel informs Model that the Americans are crossing the Seine into Paris - pointing to the impending liberation of Paris and the end of German hold over Western Europe. The loss of such territory starts the death roll that leads to the Last Stand in Berlin and Hitler's suicide.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Rommel willingly chooses to commit suicide for the sake of his family once he confirms they will not be harmed. He calmly discusses how he distrusts a pistol for the job and wishes Lucie, Manfred and his staff well before stepping into the car that will become his place of death, all the while continuing to maintain his innocence in the matter.
    • Painfully subverted with Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel. He tries to be this when attempting suicide by gunshot on the Meuse River banks but only succeeds in blinding himself. His hanging by piano wire is decidedly much less dignified, seeing as he is in silent agony over his now blind eyes.
  • Final Solution: This being Nazi Germany, the Holocaust is a major impetus for the 20 July plot and a nagging concern for Rommel's loyalty to Hitler. Due to the SS covering up the racial cleansing from the Wehrmacht, Rommel believes they are isolated cases before Speidel informs him that not only are they happening on the Eastern Front (where the army was much more involved in killing Jews) but in France as they speak. The mere rumour that the SS is committing such atrocities is enough for Rommel to forbid his son from ever joining the Waffen-SS.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The history-savvy should already know that Hitler survives his attempted assassination and that Rommel will die as a direct result of it.
  • Frontline General: Several throughout the film, most notably General Erich Marcks who is leading troops in Normandy on the fateful day of Operation Overlord from headquarters less than several kilometres away. Marcks dies in an Allied air attack as a result. Surprisingly averted for the historically frontline commander Rommel who leads from his headquarters in Normandy, the Château de La Roche-Guyon. This is somewhat justified, since as Germany's most famous general and commander of the Western Front's largest army formation, his life is highly valuable for the continued morale of the soldiers. Rommel does make a concerted effort to monitor the state of the Atlantic Wall and visit the front lines often, only to leave the second enemy attack is inbound.
  • The Hero Dies: Rommel dies by swallowing a Cyanide Pill as punishment for his silent participation in the 20 July plot, his faith in the Führer utterly shattered.
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: In a film where most of the time any given room is full of high-ranking German generals, this is par for the course. Rommel's uniform in particular stands out with the two medals around his neck (the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds and Pour le Mérite) and the distinctive field grey contrasted with a bottle-green collar and bright red collar patches.
  • How We Got Here: The film begins with Burgdorf telling Rommel of his treason against Hitler, with the rest of it chronicling his time commanding the German forces on the Western Front and his peripheral involvement in the assassination plot that led to this moment.
  • Hopeless War: What the situation is beginning to look like for the Germans. With the Eastern Front in shambles, the failure to prevent the Allied invasion at Normandy and the capture of French port city Cherbourg, the tide is rapidly turning against the Germans and taking its toll on all commanders involved. Rommel in particular grows less and less optimistic and cheerful as a result of the worsening situation.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Hitler's penchant for giving people overlapping responsibilities to foster feuds and competition makes this trope ripe for abuse. The prime example of this is between the army and the SS, where several high-ranking officials from both organizations grapple for authority. This is lampshaded by the Comtesse who doesn't buy that Rommel can protect the captured British commando since under the Commando Order, his fate lies in the hands of the SS, not the army.
    Comtesse La Rochefoucauld: There are many commanders in France. And then there's the SS.
  • La Résistance: Comtesse La Rochefoucauld represents this POV as a spy for the British and a member of the French resistance, who according to the SS were planning to assassinate Rommel before the Comtesse's contact is arrested and she is forced to go on the run.
  • Lesser of Two Evils: A good portion of the officer corps, Rommel included, are labouring under the assumption that the Bolsheviks in the USSR are the true enemy and that the Third Reich, while tyrannical, is defending the world from them. A British commando who denounces Rommel's rosy viewpoint and Speidel's photographic proof of the Holocaust eventually forces Rommel to concede that they are no better (and perhaps even worse) than the Russians.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Granted, one that is created from past historical footage. A lavish state funeral is held for Rommel after he commits suicide, which is covered up as him succumbing to injuries sustained from the strafing of his staff car. Rundstedt serves as Hitler's representative at the funeral, unaware of Rommel's ties to the 20 July plot or his forced suicide. In Real Life, the body was cremated afterwards to destroy any incriminating evidence of his true cause of death, but the masquerade lasted for less than a year before Manfred revealed the truth.
  • Military Coup: While the 20 July plot in the climax has some civilian backing, by and large it is a military operation formed around an emergency decree using the military, with retired generals Ludwig Beck and Erwin von Witzleben leading the government as head of state and commander of the armed forces respectively. A good portion of the film centers around the plotters' attempts to convert Rommel to their cause as his popularity and command over Army Group B will likely attract public support for the coup. The coup is so dependent on the military that its failure results in a massive purge of the officers corps, which claims the lives and careers of many, including Rommel (who only had a peripheral role in the conspiracy).
  • Red Baron: Erwin Rommel himself, otherwise known as "The Desert Fox" (der Wüstenfuchs) for his commands in North Africa. The countess cheekily name-drops this moniker in conversation with Rommel.
  • Sadistic Choice: General Burgdorf gives Rommel three options in the wake of his 'betrayal' of the Führer: go to Hitler and explain himself, a trial before the People's Court or commit suicide with the Cyanide Pill he and General Maisel have brought. Rommel picks the third choice, as the former two would inevitably put his family in danger on the basis of Sippenhaft (shared family guilt).
  • The Scapegoat: A common occurrence in the film. Hitler is always looking for people to shift blame for his own strategic ineptitude, and his generals resort to pushing blame themselves to keep their posts.
    • Rundstedt and Rommel argue several times over who should accept responsibility for crucial defeats such as the fall of Cherbourg. At one point when Rommel brings up that Rundstedt should take the blame as commander in the West and support him, the skeptical Rundstedt points out that doing anything of that sort would get them both the blame anyway.
    • Hitler dismisses Rundstedt for failing to hold the Rhine (covered up as charges of defeatism)note  and quickly dismisses Kluge and summons him to Berlin after the 20 July plot. Kluge's response is to commit suicide, certain that he has been implicated in the aforementioned plot.
    • After the 20 July plot, dozens of officers are relieved left, right and centre for failing to hold the Western Front, including Speidel and Blumentritt. Blumentritt is lucky to receive a new command - Speidel isn't.
    • When Burgdorf and Maisel arrive at Rommel's home in Herrlingen, Rommel assumes they are looking for someone to blame for the collapse of the Western Front.
  • Staff of Authority: The ceremonial baton is a trademark symbol of authority for German field marshals, so Rommel and Rundstedt bring their red marshal's batons to a situation meeting with Hitler. Both also carry less ostentatious black staffs on their person. Rommel's one breaks at one point but is quickly repaired.
  • State Sec: The SS (Schutzstaffel), the Nazi Party paramilitary arm and de facto policing arm of the government plays a major role in the story.
    • Interservice Rivalry with the Wehrmacht is implied through the Army's infringement on their authority to enforce the Commando Order, stipulating that all captured Allied commandos, saboteurs and agents not in uniform are to handed over to the SD (Security Service) for interrogation. Army officers extract a captured British commando from their custody to personally meet with Rommel, who arranges for his protection in a subtle violation of the order.
    • The 20 July plot in France sees over 1000 SS officers and soldiers disarmed and arrested by the Army, including Carl Oberg, the head of SS forces in occupied France. The conspirators are forced to set them free upon learning of Hitler's survival, but Oberg agrees to broker a deal that lets the lower-ranking traitors go free in exchange for the inner circle taking full responsibility (Hofacker, Stülpnagel, Finckh and Horst).
  • Storming the Beaches: Rommel is tasked with reinforcing the Atlantic Wall against such an invasion by the Allies. Unfortunately for him, a series of unfortunate circumstances leaves German forces on June 6, 1944 helpless against what will become the largest seaborne invasion in history, Operation Overlord. Disagreements between Rommel and Rundstedt, paradummies launched hours earlier as a smokescreen and the fact that Rommel returns home to celebrate his wife's birthday only worsens both marshals' standing with Hitler. The humiliating defeat indirectly leads to Rundstedt's dismissal for expressing defeatism.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Rommel's view of Hitler. For most of the film Rommel believes that the Führer's stubbornness in holding the front is due to his enabling and incompetent generals like Keitel and Guderian. He's not wrong, but it takes until the end of the film for Rommel to realize that Hitler himself is the problem and that he put his hopes in a monstrous and megalomaniacal dictator.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Most of them as Villain Protagonists. Rommel of course is a Type 9.
  • Title In: Whenever the location changes significantly, these are often present. The date is of particular note here as it steadily counts towards the fateful date of July 20, 1944, when the plotters aim to assassinate Hitler. Examples include:
    • Obersalzberg - March 15th 1944
    • France - April 15, 1944, Rommel's Headquarters
    • Fuhrer's Headquarters in Margival - June 17th, 1944
    • Cherbourg - June 22nd, 1944
    • Kluge's Headquarters in Paris - July 11th, 1944
    • Air Force hospital in Normandy - July 18th, 1944
    • Paris, German Command - July 20, 1944 18:15 hrs
  • Villains Out Shopping: At one point, Hitler waits for a briefing to begin by sketching.
  • Villain Protagonist: Rommel himself. While he's an honorable and principled figure, he is still a field marshal of the German Army and an enforcer of a brutal war his Führer started.

"His heart belonged to the Führer."