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Parachute, The (1968)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

1940. In a Luftwaffe barracks, Werner von Reger prepares to take part in the testing of a new parachute. He talks with fellow volunteer Klaus, a simple farm boy, and recalls seeing, as a child, German soldiers marching home at the end of World War One. Klaus worries about who will be chosen to jump first and is puzzled by Werner's apparent indifference.

In the early 1920s, in a Berlin drawing room, wealthy guests listen to a string quartet. Werner, about ten years old, lies on the floor writing a poem into a book; his mother looks on fondly. His father, tall, stern, with an aristocratic bearing, comes into the room and walks over to his wife, trampling the poem underfoot. The music ends and everyone applauds. Werner's father stares down at him impassively. His mother, outraged, picks up the book and leaves, taking Werner with her.

In the barracks washroom, Klaus warns Werner that the others don't like him. He doesn't understand why Werner, the well-educated son of a rich industrialist from an aristocratic family, is a simple serviceman and not an officer.

Werner, now an adolescent, fences with his father, who wins. As they relax, von Reger congratulates himself on how well he is bringing his son up - as a perfect German of the old school. It is clear that his marriage is unhappy and unfulfilling. The old Bavarian family retainer, Helmut, spends his free time denouncing the Jews and the Bolsheviks.

Werner is in love with his cousin Anna but she will not agree to sleep with him.

At the barracks, Werner is taunted and accused of being a homosexual by Koepfer, who encourages the other men to help to beat him up.

Werner's father teaches Anna to shoot. Although she loves Werner, she has still not become his mistress. Von Reger is bemused to learn that she has joined the German Communist Party. He sees war coming and offers to send them both to safety in Switzerland.

Werner admits to Anna that he feels paralysed by his formidable father, who already seems to be everything that he might have aspired to - virile, detached, ironic, fiercely intellectual.

At the barracks the men collect their parachutes. Klaus confesses that he made fun of Werner in front of the others to save himself from assault.

Werner shares an uneasy meal with his parents. His mother is about to spend the summer at their country house at Laugstein, which she loves. She has evidently known about von Reger's infidelities for years.

Werner dreams his sleigh is being chased by wolves. His father appears, dressed as a Prussian cavalryman and carrying a dead wolf. He makes Werner recite the creed he has taught him, that 'the aristocrat owes allegiance to nothing and no-one'. They laugh at the notion of being a good German.

Werner goes to see Anna, who is preparing to shoot a prominent German officer, Schacht, who has been appointed as the commandant of the new concentration camp being built near Laugstein. Schacht is a homosexual. As he leaves the restaurant where he has been dining with his mother, Schacht recognises Werner and begins a conversation with him. When Anna shoots, Werner runs into the line of fire, saving Schacht but getting injured himself. Schacht commits suicide a few days later.

Werner is selected to jump first in the parachute test.

Anna is arrested by the secret police, one of whom, Holz. comes to see Werner and his father. It transpires that Schacht had made advances to Werner, who also confesses to having slept with his father's mistress. Werner collapses during the questioning and is put under sedation. He dreams he is a senior Nazi officer, reviewing the troops, then that he is at Laugstein with Anna and his parents. In his dream, Anna becomes confused with Fraulein Bechner, his father's mistress. His mother tells him that she wants Anna to marry him. The young couple are led to a bed in the grounds.

Werner awakes. Anna has come to see him. She tells him about her arrest and subsequent treatment in Holz's cellar. He is upset and orders her out of the room.

Werner jumps from the practice tower. The parachute opens too late. He falls badly, breaking his back.

Four years later. Werner has survived but is now in a wheelchair. He is living out the war at Laugstein with his mother. His father has been killed in an air raid over Berlin. His mother has lost her mind and thinks he is her late husband. She recalls her wedding night, spent at the country house, and remembers how von Reger spent the following night at a brothel in Berlin. Suddenly the sky is full of parachute troops: Russians.