Switzerland carries the unusual weight of guilt for their quasi-collaboration after World War II, demonstrated through their avoidance and refusal to acknowledge their actions. This is the central focus of Laurent Nègre’s black-and-white film, which he both wrote and directed. The story takes inspiration from the true story of Hans Frölicher, who served as the Swiss ambassador to Nazi Germany from 1938 until the end of the war. Frölicher was highly regarded by the Nazi elite for his unwavering loyalty to Germany. The film is also loosely based on Thomas Hürlimann’s play, The Envoy, which explores the same topic.
Michael Neuenschwander portrays the role of Ambassador Heinrich Zwygart, who is fictionalized in this scenario. In 1945, he comes back to his luxurious family estate in Switzerland, appearing worn out and troubled with alcoholism. Despite this, he maintains a proper and dutiful demeanor as expected of a Swiss public figure and government employee. Fearing that he may take the blame for Switzerland’s disgrace, he devises a new strategy to demonstrate his unwavering loyalty by showing excessive flattery towards the Americans, just as he did towards the Germans.
According to Zwygart, his fellow Swiss citizens are simply relieved that their neutral country, known for its picturesque cuckoo clocks, was not affected by the war. Zwygart’s stubborn father, a former soldier named Peter Wyssbrod, still believes that Hitler refrained from invading Switzerland due to their quick mobilization and readiness for battle. However, Zwygart disagrees and holds the belief that Switzerland was spared because it served as a discreet banker for the Germans, providing loans to aid their war efforts and maintaining a financial relationship with the Nazi party even before the war.
Zwygart played a central role in this situation and notably chose not to ask for forgiveness for Maurice Bavaud, a Swiss student who tried to kill Hitler in 1938 and was put to death. This is based on a true story. However, Zwygart now has hallucinations of this aspiring assassin, the only Swiss person who was truly on the correct side of history. The movie is decent to watch, although it does feel a bit staged, and the sudden appearances of these frightening visions from the ambassador’s troubled mind may have been more effective in a live theater setting.