Switzerland’s unusual postwar weight of quasi-collaborator remorse, featuring manifestations of avoidance and refusal, is the central focus of this closely portrayed monochromatic film written and directed by Laurent Nègre. It draws inspiration from the true story of Hans Frölicher, the Swiss ambassador to Nazi Germany from 1938 until the war’s conclusion, who was highly regarded by the Nazi leadership for his unwavering loyalty to Germany. It is also a loose interpretation of Thomas Hürlimann’s play, The Envoy, which explores the same topic.
Michael Neuenschwander portrays the character of Heinrich Zwygart, a fictionalized version of an ambassador. In 1945, he goes back to his home country of Switzerland and his beautiful family estate. Despite his tired appearance and struggles with alcohol, he maintains a proper and respectable demeanor, as expected of a Swiss public figure and government employee. Knowing that he may be blamed for Switzerland’s shame, he devises a new strategy to demonstrate his unwavering loyalty by being just as subservient to the Americans as he was to the Germans.
According to Zwygart, his fellow Swiss citizens are simply relieved that their idyllic neutral country has remained untouched. Zwygart’s father, who is a grumpy ex-soldier named Peter Wyssbrod, still stubbornly believes that Switzerland was spared from invasion by Hitler thanks to the quick mobilization and constant preparedness of the Swiss army. However, Zwygart himself secretly looks down on the Swiss army as mere “toy soldiers” and has his own theory about why Hitler did not invade. He believes that Switzerland served as the discreet banker for Germany, providing loans and other financial assistance to aid in their war efforts long before the war began.
Zwygart was heavily involved in this situation and purposely chose not to request clemency for Maurice Bavaud, a Swiss student who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1938 and was ultimately put to death. This was a real event. However, Zwygart now has delusional images of this attempted murderer, the only Swiss person who was truly on the correct side of history. The film is decent to watch, although it may feel somewhat theatrical at times. The sudden appearances of these frightening visions, emerging from the ambassador’s troubled subconscious, may have been more effective in a theatrical setting.