Kaspar Hauser | Chicago Reader

Kaspar Hauser

Kaspar Hauser, the subject of this 1994 drama by German director Peter Sehr, appeared in Nuremberg's town square in 1828 as a 16-year-old, barely able to walk or talk; a letter he carried contained a cryptic remark about his having been confined in silence since the age of four. In his 1975 film Every Man for Himself and God Against All Werner Herzog focuses on the slow education of Kaspar, turning his story into a cynical meditation on God's capriciousness. Sehr places Kaspar's sudden emergence in a political context, making him the rightful heir to the duchy of Baden, imprisoned as part of a court cabal. The film's first half has enough melodramatic twists and turns to keep it riveting; the second half is both a detective story, following a judge who tries to uncover Kaspar's true identity, and a poignant account of Kaspar's intellectual and emotional awakening. But in building a case for Kaspar as a Germanic everyman susceptible to the will of every parental figure he encounters, Sehr seems to equate his circumstances with those that gave rise to Nazism—a simplistic metaphor that trivializes the mystery of Kaspar's life. Still, Sehr and his production team have a keen eye for period details, and Andre Eisermann makes a remarkably unaffected, vulnerable Kaspar.

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